How Brock Purdy, 49ers' new starting QB, beat odds to reach NFL dreams

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How Purdy, 49ers' new QB, has succeeded against all odds originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Brock Purdy was destined to play football from the day he was born. He met that destiny in a full-circle way Sunday.

On Dec. 27, 1999, the New York Jets played the Miami Dolphins at then-Pro Player Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Nearly 2,400 miles away at Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa, Ariz., Carrie and Shawn Purdy welcomed their first son, Brock, into the world.

Shawn Purdy clearly remembers waiting for his son’s arrival while watching the game. Dan Marino and the Dolphins lost 38-31 to the Jets that day, but the Hall of Fame quarterback eventually became Brock Purdy’s favorite player, which is why he now wears No. 13.

Coincidentally enough, when Brock jogged onto the Levi's Stadium grass last week for his first significant NFL action, the No. 13 he wore was in 49ers red and gold -- with the Dolphins on the other side of the field and Marino himself in the stands. Childhood fandom set aside and his NFL dream in his hands, Brock led San Francisco to a 33-17 win that kept the team's playoff and Super Bowl aspirations very much alive.

It's an underdog story, to be sure, but as Brock's parents and high school football coach will tell you, he's always succeeded against the odds.

A winner from the start

Even at 6 years old, Brock took the game of football very seriously. It might have been just flag football to everyone else, but to Brock, it was a fierce competition -- so much so that, at times, his father wondered if his son’s need to win would ever become more than his son could handle.

Nearly 10 years later, in high school, Brock proved it wasn't something that should worry his father.

“Going into his junior year, Brock had mono coming out of football camp,” Shawn told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He had lost a ton of weight, and he was supposed to be their starter. He was laying on the floor, sweating like crazy, and he was trying to get up, saying, ‘I’m going to practice. I’ve got to take my team to state.’ ”

Shawn tried to keep his son from overexerting himself, worried about what could happen in his weakened state. Brock had lost 20 pounds, his arm strength and his physical stamina.

Without being able to do anything physical for six weeks, Brock went to practice.

Brock was the star quarterback at Perry High School in Gilbert, Ariz., and he couldn’t let his team down. Head football coach Preston Jones was hesitant to give the reins back to Brock, knowing how much his body had been through.

Instead, Brock went to work off the field, shadowing every move of the quarterback who had taken his place, practicing footwork and body movement. Three weeks later, when Brock finally was medically cleared to return to the game, he'd already gone through thousands of reps on his own.

“First game back, we said, 'We will put you in the second series and kind of see how you go,' ” Jones told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We put him in second series, and we never took him out. It was amazing. He was 25 of 28 that game with four touchdowns.

“His passes looked like rainbows because he had no strength, but he did exactly what he was supposed to do, put the ball exactly where he was supposed to put it. Had an amazing game but didn’t look good for college recruiters because he lost 20 pounds and all of his strength.”

Brock took Perry to the state semifinals that year, and then to the championship game as a senior, when he set Class 6A records with 4,405 yards and 57 touchdown passes. His drive to win a championship was so strong that on the rare occasion the punt team would run onto the field, he'd become upset, seeing it as comparable to a turnover or even a loss.

At times, Jones needed to reassure his quarterback that everything still would be OK.

Cyclone phenom

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Brock Purdy celebrates at midfield after his Iowa State Cyclones defeated Oklahoma State 24-21 on Oct. 23, 2021.

Even after throwing for 8,932 yards and 107 touchdowns in his high school career, Brock wasn't highly recruited by college football programs, but that didn’t matter to him. On a recruiting trip to Iowa State, he knew he'd found his place.

He attended a Cyclones men’s basketball game, Shawn remembers his son telling him how seeing 14,000 fans packed into Hilton Coliseum to watch a 14-16 team moved him.

“These people show up, no matter what, and that’s who I want to play for,” Shawn recalled his son saying. “He fell in love with that place. Brock wanted that school and his teammates to be part of something special. He put that on himself.”

Similar to his high school comeback, Brock started his Iowa State career an underdog as the third-string quarterback. Jones, as his protective former coach, had hoped Brock would redshirt a season, to grow accustomed to the speed of the game, but in usual fashion, things didn't go as planned.

The Cyclones’ starting quarterback suffered an injury early in the season, and his backup struggled. So, Brock's number was called, and he played 10 games as a true freshman, winning eight, and led Iowa State to an Alamo Bowl berth while completing 146 of 220 passes for 2,250 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Brock finished his Iowa State career as the winningest QB in school history (30-17) and as the sole or joint owner of 32 school records, including passing yards (12,170), total offense (13,347), TD passes (81), TDs responsible for (100), completions (993), passing efficiency (151.1) and completion percentage (67.7).

Jones was elated for him -- and also not at all surprised. He'd experienced Brock's work ethic and drive, watching him take note of every detail and listening to every comment he'd made since they had met.

Mr. Irrelevant becomes relevant

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Brock Purdy shares a laugh in the locker room with teammate Jimmy Garoppolo before the 49ers' 11-10 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 25.

On April 30, 2022, the cycle started all over, with Brock again an underdog.

The third day of the NFL draft was winding down, and Brock had taken several phone calls, but it seemed teams were more interested in signing him as a free agent. At least that’s what his parents, Shawn and Carrie, were led to believe.

Then Melanie Salata-Fitch walked onto the stage in Las Vegas and announced the 262nd and final pick of the NFL Draft -- also known as Mr. Irrelevant. Brock had taken the call from 49ers general manager John Lynch, telling him he would be their selection, but kept it a secret from his family and friends.

“When they said his name on television, we all lost our minds,” Shawn recalled with a laugh.

Brock now had the tall task of competing for a 49ers roster spot while learning coach Kyle Shanahan’s complex offensive system. Through the offseason, training camp and three preseason games, Brock  impressed his coach, but uncertainty remained that he'd make the final 53.

Then, on Aug. 29, the 49ers surprisingly worked out a deal to keep Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster, as a backup to 2021 first-round pick Trey Lance, which didn't look good for Brock's chances. The next day, however, Brock found out he had made the roster, beating out veteran Nate Sudfeld for the No. 3 role.

"Really in the reps that he got when he was here in OTAs, he got so few reps. Nate and [QB] Trey got the majority of them, and Brock would get about two-to-four a day, whatever that was at the time," Shanahan said Monday. "And when he went in, he was just so aggressive in all his decisions.

"He didn't know a lot at first, but whatever he knew, he applied it, and did it aggressively and never hesitated. And whenever you can see that clear, aggressive type of play in a quarterback, early on, it was impressive, and the more he has learned, I still feel like it hasn't taken away from him."

The work never stopped. Brock shared with Jones how few reps he received as a backup, which forced him to go back to the shadowing work he did in high school as he returned from mono. This time, however, he was on his own.

Part of Brock's routine was to return to the field after practice and run through a multitude of scenarios on camera so he could watch film of his sessions later. Jones believes this is why Brock wasn't rattled when he took over as the 49ers' quarterback after Garoppolo broke his foot against the Dolphins.

“He would go through all of the scripts and then evaluate that on film,” Jones said. “He is not a go-through-the-motions guy. He would imagine 21 other people out there when he was going through his walk-through. He’s already gone through it 1,000 times in his head before he went out there to do it.”

On Sunday, when Shanahan called Brock’s number, he didn’t disappoint. He was quick and decisive under center, and threw in tight windows to his receivers who were well covered. It wasn’t perfect, but Brock completed 25 of his 37 passes for 210 yards and two TDs with one interception.

"I think he's got the perfect demeanor in that he's hard on himself and it's not phony," Shanahan said Monday in evaluating his young QB. "He believes that he can make any play, and he believes he should make the right play, and if he doesn't make it the right way, he is disappointed at himself because he believes he's capable of doing that. And then so do we, so I love someone like that because they're not going to take the easy way out. They're always going to put the pressure on themselves, and that's what gives him an opportunity to reach his max potential, and I think he's done that his whole life, and that's what's got him to this moment. And that's what's going to keep him going in the right direction going forward."

Jones sees the same qualities in his former high school charge.

“He ain’t afraid to let it rip,” he said. “At times, that could get him in trouble, but it’s what has gotten him to where he’s at -- his confidence and his ability and his teammates. He is not hesitant. He is not going to play back on his heels, he’s not going to play conservative, he’s going to attack. He is not afraid to make a mistake, which is a great quality to have.”

RELATED: 49ers overreactions: Can Purdy keep team on winning path?

But Jones believes the most difficult adjustment to the NFL for Brock might be the postgame ritual of players swapping jerseys, having laughs and spending time together at midfield before retreating to their locker rooms. The young quarterback takes losing seriously and personally.

Even after his first NFL win, Brock was seen quickly jogging to the 49ers' locker room after the game with very little fanfare.

That doesn't surprise his parents, who shared that in his low-key manner, Brock didn't even want to talk with them about the game afterward. While never wanting to see other players be injured, they're pleased to see their son's hard work is paying off with an NFL opportunity.

“Whatever he puts his mind to, it’s inspiring,” Shawn said. “He puts his nose to the grindstone and just gets to work, just believes. What others don’t believe in, he just does. When he was little, while watching football, he said, 'Dad, that’s what I want to do.'

"So to see these events unfold, you just pinch yourself.”

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