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Humble Patrick Mahomes is football’s next huge star

scottteaser-215x160Patrick Mahomes realized at a young age he had been given a gift. Something that made him different from his peers. As a five-year-old, he could fling a baseball effortlessly and hard across the diamond. The son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes didn’t think anything of it at first because it came so naturally to him. But others couldn’t help but notice.

“People started saying to me, ‘Man, you got a really strong arm,’ ’’ Mahomes told me over the phone recently. “And I started realizing that I needed to slow it down a bit so my Tee Ball teammates could catch the ball.”

Eighteen years later, people continue to marvel about his right arm, though it’s now eliciting oohs and ahhs for throwing oblong balls with laces rather than round ones with seams.

Mahomes, who will receive the Coca-Cola Sports Personality of the Year Award at the Rochester Press-Radio Club’s Childrens Charities Dinner on April 3, is coming off a historic season as the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback. A season that saw him become just the second player in National Football League annals to record at least 50 touchdown passes and 5,000 passing yards in 16 games. The only other to achieve that feat? Peyton Manning.

Not a bad start for a first-year starter and a guy who’s all of 23 years old.

Mahomes’ efforts earned him his first NFL Most Valuable Player Award and effusive praise from Tom Brady, the man regarded as the finest quarterback of all-time.

“What a great young player,’’ the New England Patriots signalcaller said after surviving a three-touchdown, 295-yard performance by Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20. “So impressed with his poise, his leadership. He is spectacular.”

The 41-year-old Brady may not be quite ready to pass the torch to Mahomes, but that day is fast coming. This past season we saw the future of football, and its name is Patrick Mahomes. He is Mr. Next.

While rewriting the record books, he played with a panache and a joy we haven’t seen since his idol Brett Favre was slinging footballs for the Green Bay Packers. Along the way, Mahomes not only established himself as the league’s MVP but also its MEP—Most Entertaining Player. His skill set is varied and extraordinary. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a master at improvisation, keeping broken plays alive, and delivering no-look passes, even left-handed passes that result in first downs and touchdowns. He can make any throw in the book—and some that aren’t.

As his old Texas high school football coach, Adam Cook, said: “God didn’t make a whole lot of arms like the one he put on Patrick Mahomes.’’

Interestingly, that arm has resulted in a friendly Twitter exchange between Mahomes and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

“I’ve always felt my arm is stronger than anyone’s and I know Josh feels the same way,’’ Mahomes said, chuckling. “He definitely can throw the ball pretty dang far. We’ve talked about maybe having a throw-off one day; a long ball contest for charity. If it does occur, it’s going to take a ball that travels at least 85 yards to win.”

After accounting for 53 touchdowns and leading the nation with 421 passing yards per game during his junior year at Texas Tech, Mahomes entered the NFL draft. He said the Bills showed some interest, but they already had a starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and decided to trade away their 10th pick to Kansas City for two first-rounders and a third-rounder.

“They went in a different direction, and I understand why,’’ Mahomes said. “They had a veteran quarterback, and they picked up an awfully good cornerback in Tre’Davious White. They have Josh there, now, and I think Coach (Sean) McDermott is building something really good there.”

Mahomes wound up in a great spot. After spending his rookie year studying behind veteran starter Alex Smith, he was given the keys to coach Andy Reid’s innovative, quarterback-friendly offense and flourished, throwing four touchdowns in the season opener, followed by six the next week, and three more the week after that.

Mahomes didn’t truly realize he had become a national sports phenomenon until attending the Pro Bowl in Orlando two months ago when he was inundated with people wanting autographs and photos taken with him. Sponsors, hoping to seize upon his ability and appealing personality, have been lining up with endorsement offers. The Chiefs, though, need not worry about securing a larger helmet to accommodate a swelled head. Mahomes’ celebrity status may have changed, but he hasn’t. He’s still a humble, hard-working person trying to get better every day, on and off the field.

The opportunity to tag along with his dad to Major League parks during his formative years made a lasting impression. In addition to playing catch, shagging flies and taking occasional batting practice, he was able to observe how his father and other MLB players went about their work. The elder Mahomes—who pitched 11 seasons in the bigs, including five with the Minnesota Twins—and players such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Patrick’s godfather, LaTroy Hawkins, provided a blueprint for success.

“They arrived at the ballpark before anyone else and showed me that if you wanted to get to the top of your sport, you needed to have a great work ethic,’’ he said. “So much of it is preparation—what you do in practice and the offseason.”

For the longest time Mahomes thought he might follow in his dad’s and godfather’s spike steps and become a major league pitcher or shortstop. He clearly had the arm for it. MLB scouts were salivating after watching him toss a 16-strikeout no-hitter during his senior year of high school. His fastball was consistently clocked above 90 mph. The Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 37th round, and he might have gone 37 rounds higher had he not told scouts he was firmly committed to pursuing both baseball and football at Texas Tech. He continued being a dual-sport athlete until his junior year when he decided he wanted to devote all his energies to becoming an NFL quarterback.

“I really love everything about the position, not just the playing of the game, but the prepping for it, the mental challenges of dissecting defenses and being one step ahead of those who are trying to stop you,’’ he said. “I eventually knew this was the way I wanted to go.”

It’s obvious he’s made the right choice and that Kansas City is the ideal place for him. He’s embraced his team and his community, and they him. Giving back is important to Mahomes. He has participated in a program that builds homes for military veterans and donated proceeds from the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” to Team Luke, which was inspired by the son of a Texas Tech tennis coach who suffered a brain injury. Mahomes said he is in the process of establishing his own charitable foundation in the not-so-distant future.

It appears he possesses a big heart to go along with that big arm.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. Tickets for the Press-Radio Club Day of Champions can be purchased by calling (585) 340-1460.

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