Mahomes, Mayfield, Brees and more: Texas QBs having their moment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield have enough talent that they probably could have reached the NFL out of Alaska.

But Mahomes and Mayfield, two of the NFL's top young quarterbacks, aren't from Alaska. They're from Texas, which makes them part of the small army of NFL quarterbacks from the Lone Star State.

Texas is a big state, accounting for nearly 9 percent of the United States' population, but the number of quarterbacks it sends to the NFL is outsized. One quarter (eight) of the NFL starters are from Texas, which has another five quarterbacks as backups.

This is more than coincidence.

"In Texas, football is heavily funded," said Greg McElroy, a former Texas high school quarterback who had a brief NFL career before moving to ESPN and ABC as a college football analyst. "It's prioritized. Quarterback is an expensive position to learn. A lot of these guys have private coaches. These guys are trained at a young age to become college players and eventually NFL players. Part of being a great quarterback is loving the game, being obsessed with the game. You can never work too hard at your craft and in Texas, football is king. There's nothing more important than football. Guys are so well coached in high school in Texas.

"Your development is accelerated in the state of Texas. Usually you can play a little earlier in college. If you play earlier and play more in college, you're going to be ready when it comes time to get to the NFL."

Mahomes, from the small Texas town of Whitehouse, and the Kansas City Chiefs finish a three-game stretch against former Texas quarterbacks on Sunday when they face Mayfield, from Austin, and the Browns in Cleveland. Two weeks ago the Chiefs defeated Cincinnati's Andy Dalton of the Houston suburb of Katy. Last week, the opposing QB was Denver's Case Keenum, from the West Texas town of Abilene.

The list of NFL quarterbacks from Texas includes former No. 1 overall draft picks in Detroit's Matthew Stafford (from the Dallas area), Indianapolis' Andrew Luck (Houston) and Mayfield as well as future Hall of Famers such as Drew Brees (Austin). Others, such as Keenum and Chicago's Chase Daniel, weren't drafted at all.

Texas QBs have stolen the spotlight in the past year, considering they have the reigning Heisman winner and No. 1 pick in Mayfield, the Super Bowl MVP in Nick Foles (Austin) and the newly-minted all-time passing leader in Brees.

And they are bonded together by some strong, unique Texas roots.

"It's a way of life [in Texas]," Keenum said. "There are a lot of people who care a lot about it. It's kind of what you do growing up, especially in my hometown, and I know it's that way in a lot of hometowns. When you have that many people who care about it that much and have great coaches -- I think I've heard of other places where it's similar [and] not to say anything bad about coaches anywhere else, but when you're in 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, or [as a] lawyer, doctor, financial guy. You're a coach.

"I think there is some pride in playing football, making the varsity, being the quarterback. There are a lot of feelings that go along with that, there are a lot of people that want to do that, so the competitiveness, maybe, kind of weeds out other people. Generally, the best athletes go play quarterback."

Mayfield and Mahomes were recently asked how they felt they benefited as quarterbacks from playing high school football in Texas.

"It's the competitive nature, how big of a deal football on Friday nights is in Texas," Mayfield said. "The coaching you get down there, the atmosphere. ... People just take it [seriously] down there."

Said Mahomes: "It's definitely the culture. In Texas, football is pretty much everything, especially in high school. ... I got to play against the best. I definitely got the opportunity to play against some really good players."

What happens in Texas football -- spring practice, summer 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments, the widespread use of private quarterback coaches -- happens in some other states, too. But not all of it is on such a grand scale elsewhere.

In Texas, spring practice lasts a month. Texas has 128 teams come to its 7-on-7 state tournaments. If a high school quarterback wants to, and most of the elite ones do, he can find a football-related activity most of the year.

"It's gotten to the point where it's played a good nine to 10 months a year," said Don Clayton, the coach at Cinco Ranch High School outside of Houston. "It's a lot of kids throwing a lot of footballs."

Clayton was among the Texas high school coaches who began the state's extensive 7-on-7 program in the 1990s. Basically, 7-on-7 is football played without linemen and develops passing games and the skills of quarterbacks and receivers.

"Kids are getting a tremendous amount of exposure to the passing game through 7-on-7," Clayton said. "We're in our 21st year. Once people started to realize that 7-on-7 wasn't a gimmick, but it was the passing part of your offense, they started taking it seriously.

"It's a chance for kids and teams to work on something that when I was growing up we used to do on our own. We'd just go out and play and now 7-on-7 is organized play."

Mahomes said playing 7-on-7 when he was in high school helped him.

"I got a better feel for the spacing on the field because of 7-on-7," he said. "I was calling the plays my senior year and so from 7-on-7 I got used to the plays and running the stuff I liked."

The popularity of 7-on-7 helped feed the rise of the spread offensive systems in Texas high school football. Most of the bigger Texas schools run the some version of the spread and thus their quarterbacks are throwing the ball that much more frequently.

"When I was graduating, everything in Texas turned into the spread," said Washington backup quarterback Colt McCoy, from the small town of Tuscola, Texas. "They started the 7-on-7 summer passing leagues where you're playing all summer long. All the skill guys are running, catching, throwing all summer long and they get into the season and that's what they do. I think that they're a little bit more developed than in other places because football is so big down there.

"Whatever high school game you want to watch, there's someone who can throw the ball."

The result of all this passing is that quarterbacks are generally more developed than their rivals from other states.

"When a quarterback leaves high school in the state of Texas, he understands coverages," McElroy said. "I could tell you when I was 18 what cover 2 was, what cover 3 was, what man coverage was. I could recognize blitzes. I knew what a hot route was. I knew about all of those things the day I got on campus [at the University of Alabama]. I understood protections well for a guy at that age.

"These guys grow up throwing a million passes in the summertime and developing as passers maybe a little faster than guys in other states."

When Daniel played for the Chiefs a few years ago he said he wasn't sure he would have reached the NFL if not for the extensive background that playing quarterback in Texas provided him. McElroy, who followed Daniel as the quarterback at Southlake Carroll High School near Fort Worth, said he's certain he wouldn't have made the NFL without it.

"Not all of us are Pat Mahomes," said McElroy, comparing his quarterbacking skills to those of the Chiefs' quarterback. "Not all of us have that natural, God-given ability. A lot of us from Texas were just so well-coached that our throwing motion, our mechanics, that stuff was hand-crafted almost like in a laboratory.

"My NFL career wasn't super long. Maybe that was because I peaked early. I didn't have any more potential to reach. I had gone that far because I probably had been overtrained. Playing quarterback in high school in Texas prepares you for college football like very few places can."

Texas quarterbacks who advance to college football and the NFL have one more advantage. They're used to the pressure that comes with the job. Mayfield said it was common for him to play in front of 10,000 fans when he was in high school. Mahomes recalled a high school crowd for one of his games that was perhaps 15,000 people.

"There's no other place that's going to prepare you for scrutiny like Texas and that's important for a quarterback," McElroy said. "Texas quarterbacks are more prepared mentally. In Texas high school football, you'll get booed by your own fans. There are some guys that can't handle adversity and then they get to college or the NFL and things might get tough for the first time in their career and they crumble.

"[Coming from] Texas won't allow you to do that. When you get to college, you're not as wide-eyed as some other guys might be. If you're going to crumble, you probably would have crumbled in high school."

ESPN NFL reporters Jeff Legwold, John Keim and Pat McManamon contributed to this report.