"I really like Joe Burrow," Dodge said with a chuckle in reference to Cincinnati’s star quarterback, "but I’m not going to root for Joe Burrow over Patrick Mahomes, that Texas quarterback."
The Mahomes-Hurts matchup is the first showdown between a pair of Texas high school signal QBs and the latest milestone for a football-crazy state once known much more for Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson than whoever was handing off to those future Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs.
Dodge, a recently retired high school coach who won seven state championships, played a big role in the start of the transformation around 1980. He was the quarterback for what he considered the father of the passing game in Texas.
Ronnie Thompson, a high school coach in Port Arthur about 100 miles from Houston, was throwing before it was cool in the Lone Star State, which made Dodge a high-profile recruit for the Texas Longhorns.
While Dodge’s career in Austin was disappointing, his legacy of training quarterbacks in his home state is unmistakable. One of the keys was identifying QBs — plenty of them — as early as seventh grade, with the goal of always having two capable of flourishing on the varsity
Before the likes of Dodge, Art Briles and the late Sonny Detmer came along, the focus was usually on finding the best running back and building from there.
"Jalen Hurts 40 years ago would have been the next great tailback in the Southwest Conference," said Dodge, who still runs a quarterback training program in retirement. "Somewhere along the way, his dad put the ball in his hands and he started throwing it."
Indeed, coach Averion Hurts at Channelview just outside Houston put his son at QB. Jalen Hurts went from college star at Alabama and Oklahoma to Philadelphia backup behind Carson Wentz to NFL MVP candidate in a matter of six years.
Mahomes had the throwing pedigree as the son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, and his strong arm was evident long before he became the starter at Whitehouse in East Texas.
The Chiefs traded up to get Mahomes 10th overall in 2017, declared him the starter in the offseason a year later and watched him become MVP that year and a Super Bowl winner the next.
"I think in Texas it’s been a program of building football players up for a long time," said Mahomes, whose Super Bowl matchup against Hurts will be the first between two Black quarterbacks. "There’s still the great running backs, there’s still the great receivers, the great tight ends, whatever you want to say."
The most recent Super Bowl-winning quarterback from Texas is Matthew Stafford, who played in the Dallas enclave of Highland Park before going to Georgia and getting drafted No. 1 overall by Detroit in 2009.
His prolific career with the Lions mostly went nowhere before a trade to the Rams immediately led to a title last season. His high school coach, four-time state title winner Randy Allen, has a quarterback training program he believes he started after seeing Dodge conduct a coaching clinic.
Once Texas became fertile ground for quarterbacks, it was only natural for growth in the college game, and subsequently the pros.
"College coaches want to win, number one," said Allen, the winningest active coach in Texas. "And number two, they know if they’ve got a Texas high school quarterback, that he’s probably played in front of big crowds. He’s probably played against great competition. He’s probably had great high school coaching and he’s probably ready to play as a freshman."
One of Allen’s Highland Park teams was a round away from facing Mahomes in the Texas playoffs a decade ago, but Mahomes’ team lost.
Mahomes never made a deep playoff run before thriving at Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury, a prolific Texas high school QB himself in the 1990s.
Allen, Dodge and Mahomes all mentioned the expansion of offseason 7-on-7 football as a significant part of the development of Texas quarterbacks. Dozens of tournaments around the state culminate in a state championship event every summer in College Station, home of Texas A&M.
Dodge also believes it helped when pass-happy teams started winning state championships. In one five-year stretch at Southlake Carroll, where son Riley is now coach, the elder Dodge had a 79-1 record with four state titles in the state’s largest classification.
The other three titles for Dodge came at Austin Westlake. Before his arrival, that school produced the first two Super Bowl-winning QBs from Texas in Drew Brees (New Orleans, 2009 season) and Nick Foles (Philadelphia, 2017).
Hurts says the high school highlights might have something to do with how the mindset about the position. A regional cable network for Texas carries a live scoreboard show every Friday night, well into a six-week postseason that’s capped by championship-game crowds approaching 50,000 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
"Texas is so big," Hurts said. "I’d turn on the TV and see, you had the Texas high school football late night show. It runs throughout the whole state. You see what (Mahomes is) doing."
Western Pennsylvania is famous for quarterbacks, too, with Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly and Johnny Unitas among the products. Mahomes is aware of this — because he has teammates from a state that also takes its high school football just as seriously.
"I brag to all my PA guys because they brag they have the best state for football because of the history," Mahomes said. "But I’m like, we’re talking about the present, and Texas is pretty good right now."
Mahomes has a point. Texas is already guaranteed to be the high school home of four of the past six Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.