At some point in the NFL draft, probably in Thursday night’s first round, a team will formalize an improbable outcome and select Patrick Mahomes II. The improbability would not stem from Mahomes reaching the highest level of football. He posted astonishing statistics at Texas Tech, got all As in high school, stands a sturdy 6-foot-3 and possesses enough arm strength to hurl a football 65 yards while resting on his knees. The improbability will stem from the fact he’s playing football at all.
As a kid, Mahomes bounded through major league clubhouses alongside his father, Pat, a hard-throwing, journeyman relief pitcher. At 5, he shagged batting practice flies before World Series games. He developed a 95-mph fastball and was offered, his father said, a six-figure bonus to play the outfield. His family is not ignorant of football’s inherent hazard. His mother, Randi, implored him to play a different sport. Pat attended all his son’s games at Texas Tech, and “I’m the most nervous guy at the stadium,” he said. If Mahomes were to veer from baseball, Pat figured it would be for basketball, another sport he seemed better at than football.
“Never in my wildest dreams,” Pat Mahomes Sr. said, “did I think he was going to be a professional football player.”
And yet, Patrick Mahomes II chose football, for the simple reason a lot of young men do a lot of things. “He just fell in love,” Pat Sr. said. Mahomes has risen to become among the most-sought players in the draft. In a quarterback class lacking a clear front-runner, it would be a mild surprise, but certainly not a shock, if Mahomes is the first signal-caller chosen.
Mahomes’s selection, whenever it comes, will mark an unlikely professional entry for his specific circumstances and broader trends. He is the son of a big leaguer, talented enough to pursue a baseball career, and did not become a starting high school quarterback until midway through his junior season. Football offers no guaranteed contracts and exponentially greater health risks. And yet, Mahomes chose a path that will end with him joining an NFL team this weekend.
“Me personally, I was hoping he would fall back on baseball, just because football is scary to watch for a mom,” Randi Mahomes said. “I definitely would try to throw that in whenever I could. I did tell him, I felt like baseball had a longer career, and football — it’s hard for me to watch. When most of the fans are standing, I’m usually sitting, because it’s difficult.”
Growing up, Mahomes seemed destined to pursue a career in baseball. He attended spring training with his father, and he would throw balls around in his rental apartment so much Mahomes Sr. could not get enough sleep at night before early-morning workouts. Other parents asked him and Randi how they got him to practice so much. “This isn’t normal?” they would respond. He first tried football in fourth grade, but quit after a couple practices.
Mahomes picked up football again and started playing quarterback in seventh grade, but his baseball and basketball ability far outshone his football skill. As a high school sophomore, he played safety, not quarterback. Meanwhile, he became one of the best pitchers and outfielders in the state of Texas and started as a freshman on the basketball team at Whitehouse High, where he told the coach he wanted one day to play for Duke.
In the summer before his junior year, Mahomes attended football camp at Texas. Coaches recruited him only as a defensive back, which he had no interest in. But then, he hadn’t played quarterback the year before, and he would have to compete with his best friend just to win the position at Whitehouse as a junior. On the way home from the camp, his father tried to intercede.
“You’re really good at baseball. You’re really good at basketball,” Mahomes Sr. recalled telling him. “Why don’t we just take the football part of it out and concentrate on those two?”
“Dad, I can’t see myself sitting in the stands and watching my friends,” Mahomes replied.
Adam Cook, the coach at Whitehouse, split series between Mahomes and his friend at quarterback. In the season’s third week, Whitehouse played Silver Springs on a rainy night. Mahomes caught fire, and Cook declared him Whitehouse’s clear-cut starter. “You could tell then, that was when the light came on,” Cook said. “Of all the things he competed in, there’s nothing like the idea of being a quarterback out there on a Friday night in Texas. I felt like that at that point, that’s when things really shifted.”
Randi had sometimes grown frustrated with her son for not showing more excitement. Once he became the starter, she said, “He just loved it.” The camaraderie football provided thrilled him, while baseball started to feel tedious, an individual pursuit disguised as a team pursuit.
“He’s a team guy,” Mahomes Sr. said. “He loves the team atmosphere about it. In baseball, if he’s pitching, he could take over a game. If he had his good stuff, it’s a good chance he was going to win the game. Basketball, you can take over a game. He could hit 30-something points, as he did in several playoff games, and they’d win. But football is a game where you’ve got to have everybody playing well to be successful. I think he loves that. I think he loves being in a locker room with that many guys, all of them pulling for the same goal. That’s the thing that most intrigued him about the game.”
Baseball would provide one final temptation. Mahomes could throw in the mid-90s as a teenager, which combined with bloodlines of an 11-year major leaguer made scouts drool. He attended showcase camps and drew interest from several scouts. The Detroit Tigers selected him in the 37th round of the 2014 draft, a throwaway pick given his strong commitment to Texas Tech. But in the early rounds, he had a chance to break his commitment.
“All I know is, a team called and said, ‘We have $1.6 million. Will that get it done?'” Mahomes Sr. said. “He told them no, hung up the phone, got in his car and drove to Lubbock.”
Mahomes’s father could have played basketball at Arkansas, for a team that eventually won the national championship, and he always wondered what his life could have been like. His mother didn’t go to college, either, and she always wished she had. Mahomes knew he wanted to go to college, no matter the price.
“Evidently, it wasn’t that hard for him, because he didn’t bat an eye,” Mahomes Sr. said. “But as a parent, you sit there and say, ‘That’s a hell of a start. You go to college for three or four years and graduate, you’re not going to start at that number.’ But it’s his life. That’s what he wanted to do. It’s his dream to be an NFL quarterback.”
It started to become reality at Texas Tech. He also played baseball as a freshman, but appeared in only one game and turned his full attention to football. He threw for 598 yards against Baylor at the end of his freshman season, when injuries pressed him into starting duty. As a junior, he solidified his NFL stock. He led the nation with 421 passing yards per game, and he set an NCAA record with 819 total yards in a loss to Oklahoma. Questions remain about his mechanics and the quarterback-friendly system at Texas Tech, but his athleticism and production make him appealing to NFL teams.
Cook received a questionnaire from the Green Bay Packers, and it was easy to answer: Mahomes was an A student and never came close to trouble with the law.
The Cardinals, who could try to find Carson Palmer’s eventual replacement with the 13th overall pick, called Cook and interviewed him about Mahomes, with particular interest in the influence of Pat Mahomes Sr. Cook told them what a pleasure it was to deal with him, how he never interfered, as some former athletes are wont to do.
“He said, ‘Coach, thank you for letting my boy play for you,'” Cook said. “I’m thinking, ‘Whoa, man. Thank you for letting him play for me!'”
And so, Mahomes will leap into the NFL, a league in which star quarterbacks make less money than, for example, not-exactly-household-names such as Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. He will play a sport that forces its participants to risk brain injury and lifelong impairment. But Patrick Mahomes II loves football, and love can make you do improbable things.