By Edwin Perez
PHOENIX – If anyone has a unique perspective on two of the key players in Saturday’s Playstation Fiesta Bowl, it’s Dan Manucci.
Call him the quarterback whisperer.
“I have been training these guys since seventh grade so I pinched myself to make sure it was true,” the former Kansas State quarterback said. “Two better men cannot be found on this earth.”
When Iowa State’s Brock Purdy and Oregon’s Tyler Shough square off at State Farm Stadium, they won’t do it as strangers. Their friendship began when they played on a club baseball team together coached by former major leaguer Clay Bellinger, father of Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger.
Both decided football was their preferred route and both became quarterbacks. They not only worked out with each other during the offseason, they had the same quarterback coach in Manucci, who also played for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and USFL’s Arizona Wranglers and is now a radio personality on Fox Sports 910.
“I never saw this coming from the two but I did see talent in both of them,” Manucci said. “Tyler had the height and the strong arm while Brock was very accurate at a young age. They both wanted it and worked extremely hard to get where they are at today.”
The players have faced each other four times already and two were high-scoring thrillers of 65-63 and 63-60 when Purdy’s Perry Pumas beat Shough’s Hamilton Huskies each time.
“I remember just going out and really whoever had the ball last was going to win,” Purdy said.
The two quarterbacks would put up big numbers during their Arizona high school careers and would take different paths when it comes to both recruiting and college play.
Shough had the higher ranking of the two coming out of Arizona – he was No. 1 by 247 Sports – and was courted by numerous schools before committing to Oregon.
Purdy, during his time at Perry, threw for 8,932 yards and 107 touchdowns. He won Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a senior. He would set Arizona state 6A records with 4,405 yards and 57 touchdowns while leading his team to the 2017 state championship.
He did not receive national attention right away. In fact, his first Power Five offer came 48 hours before the early signing period. His patience is what led him to receive multiple offers, including a preferred walk-on offer from Alabama, but he ultimately chose Iowa State, a program that appeared to be on the rise.
Both navigated the college terrain differently. The 6-foot-5 Shough would back up Justin Herbert, now starting for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, and finally got his chance in 2020, when he recorded 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions in six games, leading the team to a second straight Pac-12 championship.
“He has had a very solid statistical year,” Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said of the sophomore. “I am happy with Tyler’s progress throughout the year but he needs to improve, absolutely.”
Purdy would be a starter since his freshman year and would make an impact right away. The 6-1 quarterback would have a historical season for an Iowa State freshman quarterback, throwing for 2,250 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The following year, the Gilbert native would build off his debut and throw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also showed his ability to run with 249 yards and eight touchdowns.
His junior year has been a huge boost for the program, leading the Cyclones to their first Big-12 championship, where they faced the Oklahoma Sooners and former Pinnacle High standout quarterback Spencer Rattler.
“It’s been a pure joy to be able to coach Brock,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “And obviously, that relationship is really strong. So, for me, that whole process was huge for Iowa State football and huge for our football program.”
Now both quarterbacks find themselves squaring off again.
“Brock and I are really good friends,” Shough said. “We have been good friends for a while. We text from time to time throughout the season, when we’re playing good, when we’re playing bad, just to spin notes off each other. It’s great to have an asset, especially in college football, and when you come in from the same town.
“But we haven’t talked much throughout the week, just because we know we’re competing as competitors and preparing to play against each other. But I’m excited to go against him. We’ve had some great games in the past.”
It is fitting that the two will start 2021 dueling it out back where it started, and in a major bowl game of significance for both programs.
“I remember going to (the Fiesta Bowl) as a kid when Oregon played Kansas State,” Shough said “I’ve always had that fantasy of playing in that stadium, and obviously getting the chance to go to the Fiesta Bowl (is) huge.”
Getting to face his friend and longtime rival makes it even more special.