It seems so obvious in hindsight, now that Patrick Mahomes II is off breaking NFL records. He has the size at 6'3". He has the intangibles. He has the pedigree. And, of course, he has that right arm, the sort that comes along only once in a rare while.
If there was ever a sure bet to place on a high school player someday maturing into a franchise quarterback, Mahomes would appear to have been it. Yet hardly anyone believed it when he was a recruit in the class of 2014.
High school recruiting, once a curiosity acknowledged only in the first week of February, has ballooned into a year-round media spectacle on the strength of suspense, intrigue and plenty of subterfuge. It's the college sports fan's equivalent of a network drama, which makes national signing day the season finale, the moment when all questions about who, what, where and why are answered before the cycle resets.
Sometimes, though, there are no answers. Such is the case with Mahomes, who, almost five years after signing with Texas Tech, remains one of the most peculiar recruiting mysteries of the decade. How could someone so obviously gifted, playing at a prolific Texas high school, only receive a handful of scholarship offers?
Like all the best mysteries, no one has been able to solve it.
Mahomes grew up in Whitehouse, Texas, the son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes. From an early age, he cultivated a reputation around town as an athletic marvel. Some of that was due to the gravitas bestowed on him as the son of the most famous man in town. Far more of it was on account of how quickly he mastered whatever sport he tried.
There was baseball, of course, where he was so advanced at the plate that Coleman Patterson, his childhood friend and high school and college teammate, swears, "I think I saw him only strike out two times in my whole life, and that's from age seven until 18."
Mahomes' arm impressed on the diamond, too, not only as a pitcher but dating back to his earliest days as a fielder.
"I've heard his dad tell stories about how he threw a ball, I think, from shortstop to first base and about knocked [the first baseman] out," says Adam Cook, Mahomes' head football coach at Whitehouse High School for his senior season. "I think that may have been in T-ball."
There was also basketball, which to this day his godfather, former MLB pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, argues was Patrick's best sport. And golf. As well as high jump. Even pingpong, which Hawkins learned firsthand after Mahomes humiliated his father and godfather in back-to-back games as a high-schooler.
"He could have beat us if we played two-on-one," Hawkins says with a laugh. "He's just that dude."
But beginning in middle school, it was football that captivated him. Patterson believes that Mahomes was drawn to it not only for the game itself but also what it represented: an opportunity to venture into the unknown.
Football was "a little bit more of a foreign language to him," Patterson said, making Mahomes "fascinated by what he could do with that sport."
It took the better part of two years for Mahomes to make his mark on the gridiron at Whitehouse High School, an East Texas power which in recent years had sent players to Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Mahomes spent his first year quarterbacking the freshman team. As a sophomore, he became the varsity backup but spent most of his time on defense as a starting safety.
Finally, in 2012, he broke camp his junior season as Whitehouse's starting quarterback. He responded by throwing for 3,839 yards and 46 touchdowns, numbers gaudy enough to earn the admiration of a handful of college coaches.
Among them was Trey Haverty, then a wide receivers coach at TCU. The following spring, he was hired by Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech to coach safeties. No sooner had he arrived than he learned that Kingsbury, too, was enamored with Mahomes' potential.
"Kliff, after coaching Johnny [Manziel], wanted a mobile quarterback, and Mahomes is obviously that," says Haverty, who became Mahomes' area recruiter for the Red Raiders. "[But] as corny as it is to say, it's the intangibles ... Mahomes as a kid made everybody better around him."
Kingsbury offered, and Mahomes committed in April 2013, more than 10 months before he could sign a letter of intent.
"I just remember seeing Patrick with his eyes wide-open and excited about how much they threw the ball at Tech, because we did the exact same thing in high school," Patterson says, while also noting Mahomes was drawn to the opportunity to play Big 12 college baseball. "Texas Tech was kind of a no-brainer for him."
Houston and Rice were the only other FBS colleges believed to have extended scholarship offers. A third school, Oklahoma State, was widely reported to be Mahomes' runner-up, even though, according to Cook, the Cowboys never actually offered Mahomes. In fact, no program outside the state of Texas offered Mahomes a scholarship, not even after his numbers improved across the board as a senior.
Recruiting acclaim never followed, either. Greg Powers, who at the time covered Texas football recruiting for Scout.com, remembers ranking Mahomes as a 4-star prospect who landed inside Scout's Top 300 prospects nationally. He fretted about whether even that was too high for a kid with barely any scholarship offers and a consensus 3-star rating elsewhere in the recruiting world.
"Usually when the offer sheet doesn't match the talent you felt like you saw, you kind of have to convince yourself to stick to your guns," says Powers, who now works for Dave Campbell's Texas Football.
"What is everyone else seeing in this kid that I'm not?"
Four years later, Powers realizes he had the question all wrong. If anything, he didn't go nearly far enough. What no one has been able to explain, though, is why. Even more peculiarly, no two people interviewed for this story have the same theory for how so many schools overlooked Mahomes.
Cook believes the easiest explanation was also the most obvious: Mahomes was also a standout baseball player who had entered his name in the 2014 MLB draft.
"Everybody was still scared, thinking, 'Hey, he's going to go baseball,'" he says. "'Dad's a professional baseball player; that's the way he's going to go. He's going to make more money doing that.'"
Even Haverty admits now that Texas Tech was never concerned about the chance Mahomes reneged on his football commitment: "It was the baseball draft we were worried about."
But Haverty is also quick to note that he doesn't think baseball was what scared other colleges off. Instead, he points to Mahomes' throwing style and mechanics, which were rudimentary at the time.
Part of the reason why is that, unlike most quarterbacks of his ilk with financial means, Mahomes was a three-sport athlete who was too busy with basketball and baseball during the football offseason to bother with retaining a private throwing coach or attending offseason showcases.
That, according to Hawkins, is the real culprit.
"I think they missed because ... he never had the coaching all those other guys had," he says. "He never went to those quarterback camps; he never did that."
Randy McFarlin, Whitehouse's head coach through Mahomes' junior season, points to Mahomes being a late bloomer. High school recruiting moves faster than ever, and nowhere is that truer than at the quarterback position. By the time Mahomes became a starting quarterback, many colleges had already keyed in on their preferred targets.
"Personally, I think there's a fallacy in the recruiting process: If you don't get noticed as a sophomore, sometimes you get left out," McFarlin says. "He wasn't making waves as a sophomore. ... He had a great junior year, but people didn't know who he was."
Ultimately, the person best equipped to provide an explanation would seemingly be Powers, who has built a career on knowing the intricacies of high school recruitments. Instead, he's more baffled than anyone.
"Why he would have flown under the radar—why LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, why they didn't get him—I mean, I wouldn't be able to explain it," he says. "But I bet you they wish they could rewind time and have another shot at it, because at some of those schools, he might have been able to bring a national championship to their doorstep."
Perhaps the best answer, then, is that it's unanswerable. Which would be fitting. Patrick Mahomes has become a national sensation because of the confounding things he's able to do on the football field. It's only appropriate that his recruitment played out the same way.