Chiefs’ Mahomes works on improving his game: “You just want to be efficient”
Six years before Patrick Mahomes sprinted out of the flame-flanked tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, he ran out on the field at Wildcat Stadium to make his second start as Whitehouse High School’s varsity signal caller.
On that rainy night, the Wildcats were hosting Sulphur Springs for the annual homecoming game in the town just south of Tyler, Texas.
In any other game, Mahomes would’ve exited midway through so that fellow quarterback Ryan Cheatham could rotate in at the position.
With two talented gunslingers, then-offensive coordinator Adam Cook decided the best way to handle the position was to evenly split playing time between Mahomes and Cheatham — at least until one distinguished himself from the other.
That day came on Sept. 14, 2012.
With the rain falling, Mahomes took the field as the starter, instantly taking control of the offense in a chaotic atmosphere.
When it came time to sub out Mahomes and insert Cheatham, Cook hesitated and decided to deviate from his original game plan. Cook kept the junior in the game, and Mahomes responded by racking up more than 500 yards of offense and leading Whitehouse to a 38-33 win.
It was a remarkable night for Mahomes and for the Whitehouse program — but its significance goes far beyond the box score.
That’s the night, Cook said, he saw the three-sport athlete and future Chiefs starting quarterback fully embrace football.
“I think that’s when it finally clicked for Patrick Mahomes, what it’s like to be the quarterback of a football team,” Cook said. “There’s nothing like it. He can be on the mound, and he can be the pitcher, or he can be the point guard in basketball, but there’s nothing like being the quarterback of a football team.”
Mahomes’ first complete game as a starting quarterback sounds like something concocted on the pages of a blockbuster script and acted out on a stage in Hollywood.
By the end of the night, he had a whopping 506 yards of offense and four touchdowns. He did a little bit of everything, completing 21 of 46 passes for 385 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And he ran the ball 13 times for 121 yards and three more touchdowns.
“I knew that I had found a love for the game that was really growing,” Mahomes said of that night. “Then, as I kept playing, it just kept growing and growing, and then that’s when I finally gave up baseball and everything like that. It was the start of something special.”
But to get there, to that special moment, Mahomes had to fight through his first quarterback competition, one that set a blueprint for his college and NFL position battles.
In his first, Mahomes was up against Cheatham, a fellow junior and Mahomes’ best friend.
While Mahomes was a mobile quarterback with a strong arm and an uncanny ability to extend plays, Cheatham was a steady pocket-passer.
In Cook’s eyes, both of his quarterbacks had Division I potential. But as the competition wore on, Mahomes seemed to establish himself as a front-runner, sometimes in ways that were out of his control.
“(Cheatham) would throw a bubble to somebody, and it hit them right in the hands, and they’d drop it,” Cook said. “And it just seemed like destiny. Just seemed like everything was falling into place for (Mahomes). But he put himself in place for those opportunities. He made the decisions on and off the field to put himself in that position.”
Three years later, Mahomes found himself in another quarterback race. This time around, he was in Lubbock, Texas, coming off a successful true-freshman campaign at Texas Tech, where he took over for injured starter Davis Webb in the final four games of the season.
But the starting job wasn’t guaranteed to be his for the 2015 season.
As he competed with Webb, he channeled the same mentality he had at Whitehouse, and when the Red Raiders opened the season against Sam Houston State, Mahomes was the starter.
“When you have that kind of a mindset that you’re going to beat out anybody that’s there, that’s when you’re able to do things,” Cook said. ”That, coupled with the God-given ability that he has, that’s when you’re able to beat people out.
“That’s when you’re able to get people excited as a young rookie, when they see you throwing the ball and they can sense this energy in you, this belief in you that you can go out there and make any play that they need you to make.”
Mahomes carried that belief all the way to Kansas City, where he backed up veteran Alex Smith for a season. Like the coaches at Whitehouse and Texas Tech, the Kansas City brass sensed that belief and energy in Mahomes.
They traded Smith and his massive contract to Washington in exchange for defensive help, paving the way for Mahomes to be the organization’s starting quarterback in 2018 — the culmination of a journey that began on a rainy night in East Texas.
Sonny Cumbie, then a wide receivers coach at Texas Tech, was in the stands the night Mahomes’ quest started. There to check on eventual Red Raiders wide receiver Dylan Cantrell, Cumbie couldn’t help but notice the electric kid with the big arm.
“People are going to know who Patrick Mahomes is,” Cumbie prophetically told Cook afterward.
Mahomes’ path to the Chiefs is a journey of destiny. Or maybe it’s God’s plan. Or maybe it’s just a series of lucky breaks backed up by a wealth of talent.
Whatever it is, it led Mahomes to a starting quarterback job in the NFL.
“That night, we talk about the rain and all of that, you just saw it in him,” Cook said. “He loved that. Destiny, whatever, purpose in life, I feel like God created him for that.”