How did state of Texas become the quarterback capital for the NFL?

Quarterbacks from the state of Texas get plenty of attention in the NFL.

Like when Drew Brees of the Saints and Nick Foles of the Eagles, each from Austin Westlake, made history in January by becoming the first Super Bowl MVPs from the same high school to oppose each other in an NFL playoff game.

Or when Brees and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes from Whitehouse received all 50 votes cast for the 2018 NFL MVP award for the regular season. Mahomes won 41-9.

Or on Dec. 15, when the Arizona Cardinals will host the Cleveland Browns. Barring injuries, the opposing quarterbacks will be Texans Baker Mayfield from Lake Travis and Kyler Murray from Allen. They were the last two Heisman Trophy winners while playing for Oklahoma.

But when you see a list of NFL quarterbacks, the dominating presence of Texans rises above a passing interest. Entering training camps this season, 18 NFL quarterbacks were from Texas. California was second with eight.

Texas also leads with 10 NFL starting quarterbacks. California is second with seven. Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio are next with two each.

In addition to Texas claiming the only two Super Bowl MVPs from the same high school and the reigning NFL MVP, Matthew Stafford from Dallas Highland Park is the fastest NFL quarterback to reach 3,000 completions (125 games) and 30,000 passing yards (109 games).

In 2012, the Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck from Houston Stratford as the No. 1 overall pick. He set an NFL rookie record with 4,183 yards passing.

NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes played football in Texas. (Photo: USA Today)

“The best athletes in Texas used to want to play running back. Now with the development of the passing game, they want to play quarterback,” said Highland Park coach Randy Allen, who won a state championship with Stafford in 2005. 

“Spread offenses give young quarterbacks the opportunity to understand defensive coverages and find open receivers. That puts Texas quarterbacks ahead of the learning curve going into college. I know out-of-state college coaches come to Texas specifically to look for quarterbacks.”

Hank Carter, head coach at Lake Travis, said Texas high school quarterbacks are college-ready because they’re trained like college quarterbacks.

“We have a great relationship with college coaches, and they’ll let us come visit them on their campuses. We get them on the chalkboard and talk about schemes and drills, so our training of quarterbacks has a lot of the same concepts as the colleges,” Carter said.

The 18 NFL quarterbacks have elevated the dominance of Texas quarterbacks from a passing interest to a bigger question: How did Texas become the hub for producing NFL quarterbacks?

There’s not one answer.

Football is life in Texas

Population is a popular answer. Texas has the second-highest population of any state at 29 million and no less than 1,400 football-playing high schools, improving its chances of producing more NFL players.

But population alone doesn’t explain Texas having more NFL quarterbacks than California, the most-populated state at 39.7 million.

The emphasis placed on football in Texas high schools is another popular answer, and deserves a lot of credit. Texas high schools — with help from local booster clubs and fans who want winning programs — pour financial resources into football, including facilities, equipment and money to pay for the best coaches. 

“ … Not to say anything bad about coaches anywhere else, but when you’re a coach in Texas, you’re a coach. You might teach some in the school, but you don’t go work at Home Depot or at the bank. You’re a coach,” Redskins quarterback Case Keenum told ESPN in 2018. 

With its emphasis on football, Texas has always been a leader in producing high school players ready to excel at the next levels. When football teams were built around running backs through the 1990s, Texas produced Doak Walker, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Thurman Thomas and Billy Sims — to name a few.

As passing became emphasized, Texas high schools began producing more quarterbacks. But how did high school football in Texas, after being played conservatively for decades, transform from 40 passes a season to 40 passes a game?

The Art Briles experiment

Multiple coaches played a role in this transformation. But the coach mentioned most is Art Briles. Frustrated after a 1984 smash-mouth playoff game that ended in a 7-7 tie, Briles began tinkering with spreading the field and passing more to get the ball to his playmakers in space.

It took a few years for Briles to perfect his idea, but by the 1990s, his Stephenville Yellow Jackets won four state championships in seven years by spreading the field and finding holes in opposing defenses. Deception was also involved. During Stephenville’s first championship run in 1993, a scout noted at halftime of a playoff game that the Jackets had not lined up in the same formation twice for the entire first half.

“Texas high school coaches are creatures of habit,” Barron said. “Rarely do they do something until it’s proven it can work. You could win games with the spread, but it took awhile for coaches like Briles and others to prove you could win championships in the spread.”

Another outcome of the passing offenses was getting more players involved with touching the football. Instead of a star running back carrying 35 times a game, the spread involved four receivers plus a running back. Receivers had more fun catching the ball and scoring touchdowns than blocking downfield.

As player participation grew, it coincided with generational coaching turnover. Older, run-oriented coaches with military backgrounds from the 1940s and ’50 began to retire. They were replaced by younger offensive coordinators and head coaches wanting to spread the field and throw.

The Mike Leach factor

The effect of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Texas Tech from 2000-2009 can’t be overemphasized. Leach needed passers and catchers to run his offense, and there was a trickle-down effect to Texas high schools to emulate his philosophy. At the collegiate level, Leach’s Air Raid offense took the spread from a fad and made it mainstream — primarily because he never had a losing season at Tech.

Graham Harrell chose Texas Tech over Georgia for the chance to play in Leach’s offense. Harrell eventually broke five NCAA career passing records from 2005-2008 and led Tech to a school-record 11 wins in 2008.

“Georgia was a bigger program, but they were going to run the I-formation and throw play-action passes. Graham said he wanted to go to Tech and throw it 50 times a game because that would be more fun,” said Sam Harrell, Graham’s dad.

Leach had six starting quarterbacks in 10 seasons at Tech, and all succeeded in the Air Raid offense. Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, walk-on Sonny Cumbie, walk-on Cody Hodges, Harrell and Taylor Potts combined to pass for more than 48,000 yards and 377 TDs for the Red Raiders.

Leach’s growing coaching tree includes Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma; Kingsbury, the first-year coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and Harrell, offensive coordinator at USC. Kingsbury drafted fellow Texan Kyler Murray this year to be his quarterback. Completing the circle, Murray was coached in college by Riley at Oklahoma.

Personal QB coaches

A recent trend in the development of young quarterbacks in Texas is the private, year-round coach separate from the high school staff. This is especially true for prospects near metropolitan areas and with parents who can afford private coaching.

“I don’t know of any quarterback you’ve heard of up here in the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex that doesn’t have a private coach now,” Sam Harrell said. “I was against it at first, but I’ve learned to embrace it. I used to be adamant about my quarterbacks using my footwork and my arm motion. But you can’t make everybody throw like Tom Brady. If he can throw well, I don’t mess with him.

“When I played (in the 1970s), we did quarterback drills, but not every day. Now, if they’re working every day with a private coach, they’re getting better at their craft. We (high school coaches) focus more on our specific routes and timing.”

Current NFL quarterbacks from Texas

• J.T. Barrett, New Orleans (Wichita Falls Rider)

• Drew Brees, New Orleans (Austin Westlake)

• Derek Carr, Oakland (Fort Bend Clements)

• Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Katy)

• Chase Daniel, Chicago (Southlake Carroll)

• Nick Foles, Jacksonville (Austin Westlake)

• Garrett Gilbert, Cleveland (Lake Travis)

• Robert Griffin III, Baltimore (Copperas Cove)

• Case Keenum, Washington (Abilene Wylie)

• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (Houston Stratford)

• Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (Whitehouse)

• Baker Mayfield, Cleveland (Lake Travis)

• Colt McCoy, Washington (Jim Ned)

• Kyler Murray, Arizona (Allen)

• Matthew Stafford, Detroit (Highland Park)

• Jarrett Stidham, New England (Stephenville)

• Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee (Big Spring)

• Davis Webb, New York Jets (Prosper)

Note: Josh McCown from Jacksonville, Texas, retired in June after playing for eight NFL teams in 15 seasons.

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