Editor’s note: Think of Patrick Mahomes, and Kansas City isn’t far behind. That’s inevitable for the quarterback who broke a decades-long Super Bowl drought twice over, whose heroics in the Chiefs’ red and white uniforms are becoming singed in football fans’ brains the way Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s were 20 years ago.
But before he was the pride of Missouri, he was a Texan. An East Texan, by way of his birth and upbringing in Whitehouse, a suburb of Tyler. Then a West Texan, thanks to three years at Texas Tech.
But there’s some North Texan in him, too, and it’s the very foundation of the player who amazes fall after fall. You’ll read more about that below in an adapted story from the upcoming book Kingdom Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs, and How a Once Swingin’ Cow Town Chased the Ultimate Comeback, written by StrongSide contributor Mark Dent and The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd.
The book is fantastic; you can preorder it on Amazon or at Interabang if you want to shop local. Just don’t forget when you’re reading all about Kansas City that the football team it plucked from Dallas might not be on the upswing had its franchise quarterback not learned the fundamentals by way of Dallas, too.
When Patrick Mahomes was in junior high, a local high school coach named Reno Moore invited him to participate in a quarterback training program. To Moore, an assistant at Whitehouse High School, Mahomes was an average Texas boy, a close friend of a neighbor who often ended up at Moore’s house, waiting on the curb with a towel alongside a bunch of other kids eager to swim in Moore’s pool. But when Mahomes was out of the water, Moore saw him run around and play in the occasional backyard football game. He was impressed.
Like most everyone in East Texas, Moore was also aware of Mahomes’ athletic lineage. Mahomes had been playing sports for nearly his entire life. In his earliest years, he had a makeshift locker next to his father, Major League Baseball relief pitcher Pat Mahomes, in MLB clubhouses. He took batting practice with Alex Rodriguez and shagged balls in the outfield with Mike Hampton. In Whitehouse, the Tyler suburb where he lived, his mother worked extra shifts as an event planner to pay for his various sports leagues and athletic pursuits. Mahomes developed his strength with longtime trainer Bobby Stroupe, dropped pinpoint assists in basketball, and hit home runs in baseball, dominating so much that friends and family believed he’d be a pro prospect as a shortstop.
The only sport missing in his young life was football. Mahomes’ relationship with the game was casual. His favorite movie was the Denzel Washington classic Remember The Titans, and he cheered for the Cowboys and Tony Romo. But prior to middle school, he didn’t play much beyond those backyard games, and nobody knew how his prodigious skills on the baseball diamond would translate to the gridiron. In a short stint in a Pop Warner league, Pat Mahomes Sr. recalls, his son played linebacker and did “all right.”
“But he didn’t like tackling guys,” Mahomes Sr. adds.
In the fall of his seventh grade year, Mahomes joined the Whitehouse Junior High team, playing safety more than he played quarterback, according to Moore. But his talent and his desire to become a quarterback were obvious, and so Moore invited him to the training program in the second semester. Mahomes was about to get a crash course on how to be a Texas high school quarterback, a course designed by a North Texas coaching legend.
In the late 1990s, not long after Patrick Mahomes was born, Texas high school football experienced an offensive revolution. The I-formation and Wing T faded out, and sets with as many as five wide receivers proliferated. The revolution was shaped, in large part, by Todd Dodge, a former University of Texas quarterback turned coaching savant.
Dodge experimented with pass-oriented offenses in the early ‘90s, combining a run-and-shoot technique with the I-formation as an assistant under the decorated coach Ron Poe at McKinney High School. He got his first head coaching job at Cameron Yoe High School in Central Texas, followed by stints at Carrollton Newman Smith and Keller Fossil Ridge. In 2000, he took over as head coach at Southlake Carroll, a storied program with one of the most affluent populations in Texas.
Dodge ran the spread in Southlake. Along with fellow early adoptees like Highland Park’s Randy Allen and Ennis’ Sam Harrell, his offense was more complex than almost anything seen at the high school level: no huddle, shotgun formation, plays called by hand from the sidelines that corresponded with nearly 200 numbers and titles printed on players’ wristbands. There were so many throws, so many receivers, so many routes that Dodge liked to call it the “spread the wealth” offense.
More than anything, the dizzying array of choices required an experienced, accurate passer. Few schools had one. Dodge recalls many programs took their most athletic junior at the end of every fall and prepared him to be the quarterback as a senior—throw, graduate, repeat. At McKinney, Poe was more prudent, training a group of prospective high school quarterbacks every February. Dodge took the idea to the next level. He says he started “Quarterback School” at McKinney, selecting not just high school quarterbacks but also middle schoolers for training programs every spring semester. He brought the school with him to Newman Smith, Fossil Ridge, and Carroll.
Over several weeks, during their athletic period, the boys studied from Dodge’s curriculum. “[We] taught it like you would a history class,” he says.
The quarterbacks learned leadership techniques and coverage reads and standard mechanics: Dodge wanted them to throw with spin and effectively transfer their weight in the pocket. Wide receivers would join them and run skinny posts and glance routes. The classes were less about memorizing a playbook than equipping the young quarterbacks with the tools and mindset necessary for playing the most important position on the football field.
At Newman Smith, Fossil Ridge, and early on at Southlake Carroll, solid quarterback play kept Dodge’s teams competitive. In 2002, Dodge’s third season in Southlake, Carroll broke through to win the state championship. (It would go on to win again in 2004, 2005, and 2006, led by quarterbacks Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, and Riley Dodge, Todd’s son. All three signed with FBS programs; Daniel would later spend 14 seasons in the NFL.) In the world of Texas football, Dodge Ball was the best thing going. Coaches knew it, fans knew it, players knew it, and Reno Moore certainly knew it.
Moore joined Randy McFarlin as an assistant when McFarlin was hired as the Whitehouse High School football coach in 2004. The team went 1-9 the previous fall and had made the playoffs just a handful of times in its history, filling the role of doormat in a region of East Texas that produced Earl Campbell and Tyler High School’s “Cujo” juggernaut. McFarlin believed a pass-first offense could at least stimulate excitement at Whitehouse, so he brought along his friend Moore, who had coached the offensive line for a year under Dodge at Southlake Carroll, to build the offense.
“We knew it was time to really experiment with the spread and try to implement it,” Moore says. “And the first thing we did was the quarterback training.”
At Carroll, Moore was often free during the athletic period and spent the hour listening to Quarterback School meetings and watching drills. McFarlin remembers driving to Southlake to pick up some extra pointers from Dodge. At Whitehouse, they devised a similar version for every class of students. Eight seventh graders were plucked out of the athletic period for lessons over several weeks every spring semester. The list whittled down to six in eighth grade, then four in ninth grade, and finally two in tenth grade.
The classes in Whitehouse had the same goal as in Southlake: develop mechanics, hone accuracy, and emphasize the importance of the position. And it worked. McFarlin and Moore, counting on steady play from their quarterbacks, turned around Whitehouse, winning district in their third year.
About two years after that, Moore invited the boy he used to see at his swimming pool to the quarterback classes. He was now a precocious middle schooler who seemed mature for his age. “[He was] smiling all the time,” Moore recalled. “Yes sir, no sir. Never had to worry about anything … He just always wanted to do good.”
It didn’t take long for Moore to realize that Patrick Mahomes wasn’t just good. He was the most gifted quarterback he’d seen.
For the first two weeks of Whitehouse’s Quarterback School, according to Moore, Mahomes, and the other quarterbacks spent the entirety of the athletic period in a classroom. They watched film, learned to read coverage schemes, and pored over a quarterback manual with lessons for the mental side of the game. The manual’s first pages explained what it took to be a quarterback and a leader.
“There were all kinds of different characteristics coach Dodge had … laid out,” Moore says. “We’d talk about poise, the next play, you have to have a short memory but you have to have a long memory, you have to have a quick memory. All those things.
“Basically, what I said is you have to have the best attitude. You have to be the person that when things are bad, everybody knows you’re OK. When things are good, you’re still OK.”
After a couple weeks, the quarterbacks started passing drills. Moore placed a collection of 5-foot tall adjustable nets, each with three pockets big enough to catch a football, in a gymnasium. Mahomes faced a net, pretending his feet were planted in concrete, and threw. He faced the opposite direction of a net, turning around when Moore said so, and threw. He lay flat on the gym floor, hurrying to his feet at the command of Moore, and threw.
Moore couldn’t believe how quickly Mahomes released the ball. It was as though the leather were burning hot. And the kid could throw from every angle into the correct pocket of the nets. “Did I see better athletes through my years in junior high? Yes, I definitely saw better athletes,” Moore said. “But I didn’t ever see an athlete that could be … a quarterback [and] make decisions and do the things he was doing.”
The lessons, which lasted a few weeks, progressed to routes with wide receivers. Months later, the eighth grade season began. Mahomes and his fellow quarterback trainees were ready to show what they had learned. As Moore saw it, there was only one element of the lessons where Mahomes needed extra work: throwing mechanics. The way he threw the ball was unorthodox. He could throw the ball off balance, and he often lacked the textbook L-shaped throwing style. Unlike standard pro quarterbacks, Mahomes positioned his arm at different angles, at a three-quarter motion or sidearm, like the way he’d turn a double play at shortstop on the baseball diamond.
As Moore watched Mahomes during his eighth-grade season, he’d tell the other coaches: “We’ve got to get his arm up.”
Then, during an eighth-grade game, Mahomes flung the ball an absurd distance, and it spiraled and spiraled in the air, perhaps as far as 60 yards, according to Moore, before finally landing in the arms of a wide receiver.
It was a sidearm throw. Mahomes did not need to get his arm up.
Moore had discovered something he realizes more clearly today: the quarterback lessons may have helped “teach Patrick how to walk,” Moore says. “But he eventually learned how to run” by himself.
All of Mahomes’ coaches—from his athletic trainer Stroupe to Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury—learned the same lesson. Sure, they would hone something here or there. But they recognized the best thing they could do was unleash an unfiltered Mahomes onto the world, and let the world enjoy the results.
Dodge is among those enjoying Mahomes. He was surprised when I told him some of Mahomes’ first experiences with organized football came from quarterback lessons he designed. But he couldn’t hide his delight. “It just thrills me,” Dodge says.
After leaving Southlake Carroll for a dreadful tenure at the University of North Texas, Dodge returned to the high school ranks at Marble Falls High School. From there, he moved on to Austin Westlake, where won three more state championships before retiring in 2021. His Quarterback School, which he has taught to several programs around the country, has become widespread. Every year in Texas and beyond, groups of seventh graders shuttle into classrooms to learn coverage schemes, throw footballs into nets, and listen to stories about leadership.
They may never grow up to be just like Patrick Mahomes. But for a little while, he was just like them.