If you’ve followed the NFL playoffs, you probably know the remarkable rise of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.
The final pick of last year’s draft, “Mr. Irrelevant” went from San Francisco’s third-string passer to 7-0 as a starter. If he can lead the 49ers past the Eagles in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, he’ll be the first rookie quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl.
And now for the wild part: His record-breaking college career started almost exactly the same way.
“It’s surreal,” USF pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said.
Gordon has had to follow Purdy’s NFL ascent from afar — when he hasn’t been on the road recruiting or transitioning to his new job — but knows his college story as well as anyone.
Gordon was a first-year quarterbacks coach at Iowa State when Purdy arrived. Purdy wasn’t a nobody (he was a three-star recruit), but he didn’t enroll early and was the second passer the Cyclones took that class. Gordon remembers Purdy running 110-yard sprints, alone, in the indoor facility on his first day.
“He was scared to death he wasn’t going to be able to make the times,” Gordon said.
Within a few days, several other freshmen were running beside him. That’s the kind of pull and leadership Purdy had; it was enough to convince Gordon he had something special.
Purdy began his true freshman season as the No. 3 quarterback before an injury to starter Kyle Kempt and iffy performances by backup Zeb Noland gave him a shot off the bench at No. 25 Oklahoma State. He led the Cyclones to touchdowns on five of his first seven possessions.
The moment that still stands out to Gordon, however, wasn’t a score. It was a third-down scramble where Purdy lowered his shoulder against two defenders to pick up the conversion. His teammates went crazy.
“That was it,” Gordon said. “They believed in him. They believed that we were going to have a chance to win.”
Purdy did lead Iowa State to a win that game. And the next. And the next. And the next. And the next, as he finished 7-2 as a starter.
That’s how it went, for 46 consecutive starts, including one that resonates this weekend — when he went up against current Eagles starter Jalen Hurts and No. 9 Oklahoma. The Cyclones trailed by 21 at halftime but rallied when Purdy threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. Iowa State lost 42-41 on a failed two-point conversion, but Gordon still remembers the determination Purdy showed in defeat.
“He just kept making plays,” said Gordon, Purdy’s position coach for all four of his college seasons. “You’re sitting there watching it, and you’re like, ‘Goodness. This guy won’t stop.’
“When you have a quarterback like that, your football team feeds off that, and they begin to believe they can beat anybody. That’s really how he transformed the program as a quarterback.”
With Purdy as a starter, Iowa State went 30-17 — a winning percentage (.638) that’s almost 200 points better than the Cyclones’ all-time mark without him. Their top-10 finish in 2020 was the program’s first.
Purdy hasn’t transformed the 49ers the same way. He hasn’t needed to; San Francisco was already a Super Bowl contender before injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo made Purdy the starter, beginning with last month’s 28-point win over the Bucs.
Before Purdy, Gordon had never had a quarterback go through the draft process before, much less lead a team to within four quarters of the Super Bowl. He said it’s fulfilling to watch a former player star at this level.
But not necessarily surprising. Not after watching everything Purdy did from Day 1 in college.
“He looks like the same guy that we watched for four years at Iowa State …” Gordon said. “That’s Brock Purdy.”
• • •