If not for the pads they wear, three of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 would be displaying the chips on their shoulders.
Those chips, of course, are figurative, but they’re cinder-block sized, produced by years of hearing, “nope,” “can’t,” “won’t” and “back of the line, kid.”
Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II played at Whitehouse (Texas) High School and was considered a four-star recruit but there were questions about his dedication to football over baseball. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and West Virginia’s Skyler Howard each had “measurable” issues – they were thought to be too short. too slight and too slow for Big Boy Football.
Last season, this trio combined for 11,498 yards passing 98 touchdown passes. Mayfield (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoffs. Mahomes was second in the nation in total offense. Howard (6-foot, 205 pounds) threw for five touchdowns and set a Cactus Bowl record with 532 yards passing.
“That keeps you hungry and keeps your working,” Howard said of having a chip on his shoulder. “You don’t have to look for external motivation. It’s all inside. You wake up every morning with a purpose. I enjoy it, I like it a lot. I’ve always came from the bottom. It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve got to work my way up.
“For me, all that matters is what I can do in a game. There’s nothing I can do about not getting recruited.”
Howard wasn’t a starter as a freshman in high school. He was playing wide receiver as a sophomore before taking over at quarterback midway through the season at Fort Worth Brewer High School.
Howard was offered no scholarships and walked on at Stephen F. Austin, an FCS school. The coaching staff wanted to move him to running back. Believing he could make it as a QB, Howard transferred to Riverside City College and led the team to a 10-2 record, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns.
West Virginia offered him a scholarship. In 2014 he was running the scout team to start the season and was the starting quarterback by season’s end. He took over for injured starter Clint Trickett late in the season and threw for five touchdowns in two games.
“I think what he brings to the table is grit and toughness,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
“It’s all stepping stones,” said Howard, who goes into his senior season with 15 starts as West Virginia’s quarterback. “I took a bumpy road but looking back, it’s a straight line.”
Mayfield’s journey was a crooked line. With few serious FBS offers out of high school, Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech and earned the start in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first game as the Red Raiders’ coach. His season was derailed by injuries and he decided to transfer to Oklahoma. Last season, he beat out Trevor Knight to win the starting job.
He had this to say about his development as a player:
“I find my own fuel, not necessarily from anything on the outside. I can drive myself, and I always have been able to be self-motivated. That’s helped me be where I’m at right now and pushing forward to where I want to be.
In 2014, while Mayfield was sitting out his transfer year at Oklahoma, Texas Tech’s Mahomes took over for injured starter Davis Webb – ironically, the QB who had been competing with Mayfield for the starting job. Those seven games as a freshman provided the springboard to last season that produced 4,653 yards passing and 36 touchdowns.
A three-sport star at Whitehouse (Texas) High School, Mahomes had football offers from Oklahoma State, Rice and Texas Tech – which agreed to allow him to play football and baseball. Mahomes skipped playing for the Red Raiders baseball team last spring to concentrate on football.
“Patrick has always wanted to show people what he was worth,” Kingsbury said. “That’s the way I played the game. I don’t think I’ve every recruited a five-star guy at quarterback. Most of the ones I’ve dealt with have been under the radar and had something to prove.”
FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt, who played quarterback at Colorado, sees the “chip on the shoulder” attitude as a plus for any quarterback.
“You can call it servant leadership or a walk on mentality,” he said. “The perception is, as a quarterback, is that you’re going to feel entitled. The last thing you want to do is feed into that perception. If you play like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder or working to prove people wrong, that endears you to your teammates.
“Leadership is the ability to hold or set the standard.”