Holy cow! He’s Purdy good

Having a steer named Mr. Irrelevant does not seem all that weird to Preston Jones. The former Perry High (Gilbert, Ariz.) football coach chose the name after learning it is the moniker bestowed upon the last player picked in the NFL draft. Brock Purdy … for example.

Little did the San Francisco 49ers know when they grabbed Purdy with the 262nd selection that the rookie would become their starting quarterback this season. No one could have expected the 49ers would lose Jimmy Garoppolo to a foot injury and go 6-0 with Purdy in relief.

How often does a team lose its top two quarterbacks to injuries, go with a rookie behind center instead of scrambling to sign a veteran, win 11 consecutive games and become the odds-on favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII? Anyone who claims they could see this coming is full of bull.

That takes us back to Jones, who chose Mr. Irrelevant as his steer’s name because he was Perry’s coach when Purdy was making a name for himself as the Pumas quarterback. Jones’ daughter suggested Frisco as the steer’s name, but Jones warned her that the steer would likely be with the family longer than Purdy’s stay in the Bay Area.

The life expectancy of a steer is 15 to 20 years. The life expectancy for Mr. Irrelevant is 15 minutes if he is lucky. Seven quarterbacks have been selected with the last pick since 1936 and Purdy is just the second to appear in a regular-season game.

“These are unchartered waters for Mr. Irrelevant. It’s so cool to see a great person beat the odds,” said Jones, who retired from coaching in 2021 after leading Perry’s football program since the school opened in 2007. He still teaches at the school with nearly 3,500 students.

Brock Purdy

Jones was not glued to his television during the 2022 draft last April. He was doing yard work on April 30 when the draft reached the seventh round and took an occasional break to sneak a peek. He had been in contact with Purdy’s parents, who were going to throw a party whether or not their son was picked. The 49ers became the life of the party with a relevant pick for Jones and the Purdy family.

Purdy will always be Mr. Irrelevant for 2022. Jones named his steer before Purdy played in a preseason game with the 49ers. Once Jones saw how Purdy handled himself against “such freaks,” Jones changed his tune and began to believe Purdy could play in the NFL.

There is little doubt now. Some will credit Purdy’s composure to all the snaps he took as a four-year starter at Iowa State. And to think the 49ers selected Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in 2021 even though he played in just 19 games over three years at North Dakota State.

Jones “noticed something different” when Purdy was a freshman at Perry in 2013. “It wasn’t so much his talent. It was more his demeanor. He was all business and expected everybody else to be all business. He was still a very likable kid. Everyone gravitated to him.”

Luck was on Jones’ side when he traveled to Levi’s Stadium on Oct. 23 to watch the 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs. With the 49ers trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter, Purdy made his NFL debut and completed his first pass for 20 yards to Ray-Ray McCloud. That made Purdy the first Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history to complete a pass.

Jones went out to dinner with Purdy after the game and was somewhat surprised that Purdy was not recognized in the restaurant. “I was very, very lucky I took the time to do that then,” Jones said. “I don’t know if we could do it now. His life has totally changed.”

Receiver’s Kupp runneth over

Quincy Forte was worth a trip to San Luis Obispo in 2013 to see Eastern Washington play Cal Poly. The Vacaville High graduate started at running back for the Eagles, and former Folsom High star Dano Graves played quarterback for the Mustangs. Neither was the most captivating player in the game, however.

Cooper Kupp, an unheralded freshman with Eastern Washington, stole the show in the Eagles’ 35-22 victory. You have probably heard of him by now. Kupp had eight receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns that day. He averaged 107 receptions and 1,616 receiving yards in each of his four college seasons. He scored 21 touchdowns as a freshman and had 73 in his career.

Cooper Kupp (photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University)

Beau Baldwin was the coach at Eastern Washington during Kupp’s time in Cheney and is now in his third year at Cal Poly after three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Cal. Baldwin is not at all surprised by what Kupp is doing these days, but he does admit it is unusual for a player who was only recruited by Eastern Washington and Idaho State to be setting the NFL on fire.

“(Kupp) was a little bit of a late bloomer. He was an underdeveloped kid,” Baldwin explained. “We had been following him since his sophomore year (at Davis High in Yakima, Wash.). He used to come to our football camps. He hadn’t sprouted yet as a junior, but he made a big jump as a senior.”

Kupp has to rank as a big reason why the Los Angeles Rams will face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Rams were 0-2 in the regular season against the 49ers even though the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kupp had 20 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown in those two games. Those numbers contributed to Kupp becoming just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to claim the receiving triple crown by leading the league in receptions with 145, receiving yards with 1,947 and receiving touchdowns with 16.

The other players to wear the receiving triple crown were Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith Sr. (2005). You have surely heard of them. Rice and Sharpe were first-round draft picks by the 49ers in 1985 and Green Bay Packers in 1988, respectively. Smith and Kupp were both drafted in the third round, Smith by the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and Kupp by the Rams in 2017. Smith was discounted because he is just 5-foot-9. Kupp was sold short because Eastern Washington is not a football factory even though the Eagles were the FCS national champions in 2010.

“We had a good tradition,” Baldwin said of his nine seasons at Eastern Washington. “(Kupp) added to that tradition.”

NFL scouts expressed their doubts about Kupp after he was clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2017NFL Combine. Bucky Brooks, an NFL analyst, said at the time that Kupp would not amount to anything more than a third receiver with any team. Baldwin went to bat for Kupp and came out swinging.

“I got into arguments with scouts, about him,” Baldwin recalled. “You don’t put him in spikes on a track. These aren’t the Spandex Olympics. Put him in football pads and a helmet and see what he can do.”

We have.