GLENDALE, AZ — Turn on any football game these last few weeks, and it feels like every single one features a starting quarterback that grew up in the state of Arizona. The quality of talent coming out of our high schools is on a meteoric rise, and it's getting noticed by the top programs in the country.
"We think the high school football in the state of Arizona is off the charts," said Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. "They have great players, elite talent. They have elite coaching, top programs that compete at the national level. So I think the opportunity to have an appearance there, especially for some of our guys that are from the state, in front of their friends and family is huge. It's a tremendous opportunity."
That homegrown talent will be on full display Saturday for the entire country to see when two local kids will quarterback their respective teams at State Farm Stadium for the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Hamilton High School alum Tyler Shough will lead #25 Oregon against #10 Iowa State and Brock Purdy, who starred at Perry High School.
"It's special to go back to the state where it started for me," said Purdy. "To be able to go to the biggest bowl game in Iowa State history is special, and then obviously to be able to play in front of my family and friends and stuff from back home is going to be really sweet."
"It's obviously a dream come true to be able to play in the Fiesta Bowl, a bowl where I grew up, and obviously get to play against some people you know," said Shough.
Adding to the intrigue of this battle between Arizona quarterbacks is the fact that they are good friends with a long history together. They hit next to each other in the batting order on their club baseball team, which happened to be coached by Dodgers star Cody Bellinger's dad. The two were also responsible for some memorable high school games on opposing teams. They met four times in two years, with Purdy's Perry Pumas winning each time. The one they both recall is a 63-60 overtime game in the 2016 6A State playoffs.
"I had a bunch of fun, I know he had a lot of fun playing the game. It came down to who had the ball last," Shough said despite being on the losing end. "Brock and I have had a lot of those games in high school, a lot of great, great matchups. I know we've been going at it for a while, so it's honestly pretty sweet that we can do it in college."
Purdy remembers that game as a taking-off point for his confidence.
"As far as saying to myself, 'alright, you know, I can do this. I can play against the best of the best.' Hamilton at the time had all the history of state championships and everything, and to be able to do that, for me, I was like, 'alright, yeah, I can go up against anybody and compete against the best'. I knew I was going to go get my dream and do whatever it takes from that point on."
Purdy's recruitment out of Perry was an interesting one, but it ultimately led him to Iowa State where he was recently named the all-Big 12 first-team quarterback having led the Cyclones to heights the program has never known before.
"Brock is a young man that came in with all of those intangibles that he had from Perry High School and really has led our program from day one," said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. "Brock is a young man that is not only a great football player, but he's an incredible human being and has really made everybody in our program better from, really, the standard that he set in every walk of his life."
Shough is just coming into his element in his first season starting for the Ducks after taking over for NFL rookie sensation Justin Herbert. He leaned on Purdy for advice as the two trained together in the Arizona summer heat during the offseason.
"[We] just talked about the ins and outs of being a starting quarterback. He obviously had a year under his belt, and I talked to him and because we have a great relationship," said Shough. "I think it was great to have some conversations about that."
While the two remain in communication throughout the season, they'll go into their respective corners this week, preparing for the biggest football game of their careers. For old times' sake, it just so happens to be a duel in the desert once again, where they'll cherish the moment they have with each other, with family and friends, and with everyone in their home state.
"I'm going to show my appreciation for all the people that have been there for me growing up in high school and everything," said Purdy. "It's going to be really special."
The Fiesta Bowl is scheduled to air on ESPN on January 2 at 2 p.m.