“Holy sh**, who is this guy?”
That’s what Baltimore Ravens tight end Charlie Kolar remembered thinking during Iowa State’s fall camp in 2018. It was Kolar’s second year in the program after redshirting his freshman season, and he was looking forward to seeing some game action for the first time.
But on that hot summer day in Ames, Iowa, Kolar watched as an 18-year-old from Arizona executed a play with ease and skirted by even the Clones’ best defenders.
“I remember one play, [we ran] a speed option, and he hit a crazy fake pitch spin into the end zone, juked the two best players on our defense, and we were like, ‘holy sh**, who is this guy?’” said Kolar. “I remember specifically that play five years later.”
Kolar was talking about then-true freshman Brock Purdy, and he knew right then Iowa State had something special. The Cyclones' offense was struggling early in the season after Kyle Kempt was injured, and backup Zeb Noland was proving ineffective. But when Purdy’s number was finally called, he was ready.
“It’s just…” Kolar paused, seemingly thinking of the right words. “Something happened. He just brought life to the offense.”
That breath of life was a product of the foundation instilled by head coach Matt Campbell that both players and fans quickly latched onto: ‘five-star culture vs. five-star athletes. That simple colloquialism meant that while Iowa State doesn’t attract top talent each recruiting cycle, they do have a top-notch environment inside its four walls.
Purdy only emphasized that mantra when he took up duties under center, who himself was just a three-star prospect in high school.
Purdy got his first opportunity in 2018 on the road up against a ranked Oklahoma State, where he quickly found his footing, leading Iowa State to a 48-42 upset. The true freshman went 18-for-23 for 318 yards, 84 rushing yards, and five total touchdowns, four passing and one rushing.
A star was born.
“It was a zone read, and he took a 40-yard touchdown to the house for his first rushing touchdown,” recalled Kolar. “He starts high-stepping like Deion Sanders from the ten-yard line.”
Yep, that really happened.
“Apparently, the QB coach in the box is freaking out, [saying] ‘What is he doing? Tell him to get in the end zone!’” Kolar continued. “Campbell gets on the mic and says, ‘He can do whatever he wants, let him be.’ I heard this story, and I was like, ‘Brock Purdy. He’s our guy.’”
Campbell echoed the sentiment after the game, but in coach speak: “Great poise, understanding who he is, comfortable in his own skin. Brock certainly has a lot of those traits. Campbell said at the time about his newly-minted Q-B. “Even on a day like today, the moment is not too big for him.”
That theme has followed Purdy into his rookie NFL season, where he finds himself in a similar position taking over as QB1 for the San Francisco 49ers with both Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance sidelined with injuries.
While many are skeptical about just how quickly Purdy will acclimate to the speed and demands of the pro game, those who know him on and off the field are not, like Kolar and fellow former Cyclones tight-end Chase Allen.
Allen dialed into a Zoom interview from the Chicago Bears training facility with an energetic grin on his face.
“Thank you for reaching out to me,” Allen said. The Bears were about to begin their bye week, but Allen was excited to talk about his buddy Brock. Even more so to see him step into a role that Allen believes he’s made for.
“Brock is in good hands with the players that [the 49ers] have and the culture they have there,” said Allen, and Kolar agreed.
“He’s just incredibly consistent with his preparation,” said Kolar. “The reason why he was able to step in at Oklahoma State was, I assume, the exact same way in San Francisco because of the way he prepares.”
Less than a year ago, Allen, Kolar, and Purdy were teaming up to make offensive magic in Ames, with Kolar and Allen being two of the best tight ends the Cyclone program has developed and Purdy owning 32 school records himself. Take the three of them, add New York Jets running back Breece Hall, and you’ve got an offensive quartet that changed the game for Iowa State.
“I don’t know of anyone that worked harder or cared more. He helped bring that program out of where it was and helped us have a lot of success,” said Allen.
For Kolar, it was Purdy’s lighthearted attitude, even in the most challenging moments, that stuck out the most.
“He’s an intense competitor. He’s a really good dude. He’s got good faith. But he’s kind of a [trash] talker,” Kolar said with a chuckle. “Brock does a killer impersonation of me. He’ll do it, not just off the field. He’ll do it in games, too. It would be a big play, third down coming up. I would walk up to him in the huddle [and say], ‘Hey man, if it’s cover three, I’m going to do this.’ and he would say [in my voice], ‘Alright, if it’s cover three, I’m going to do this.’ and start making fun of me.”
That comfortability in high-pressure moments led to much success for the Cyclones with Purdy. There was no better example of that than when he returned to his Arizona roots for the 2021 Fiesta Bowl against a tough Oregon team. The Perry High School alum earned a victory on his home soil, 34-17.
“When he’s locked in but still loose, he’s fantastic,” said Kolar.
But it’s not just the records, thrilling plays, or historic seasons that Allen and Kolar hold dearest when they think of Purdy. It’s the memories they shared as friends.
“It was during the COVID season, and we had a lot of guys back on campus the summer before when everything was still kind of shut down,” Allen recalled. “We had a weight rack in my garage on campus in Ames, and Brock and I were running workouts, having guys come in who were in town.
I remember we were doing a workout in my living room with a bunch of other guys, and it was right as The Last Dance was coming out. Brock loves Michael Jordan. We had someone from Cleveland who wanted to talk about LeBron. It was a screaming match while they’re doing band pull-aparts. That went on for several days.”
Having a spirited argument with buddies over who the GOAT is or going toe-to-toe in Jack Trice Stadium against top talent, Allen and Kolar both described Purdy as the ultimate competitor but also a gentle spirit.
“There are certain people you’re always just grateful for because they’re good people, they leave an impact on your life, you can tell they’re trying to make the world a better place not just in the sport but as a human being. He’s one of them,” said Kolar.
“[I] just kind of learned his background, where he came from, his mindset, and how he approaches the game. It really helped me see just his drive and his passion,” said Allen.
Fans in Ames picked up on that, too, dubbing an important part of the season as ‘Brocktober.’
“I don’t know his exact record, but we were pretty hard to beat in October with Brock as quarterback,” said Allen. “It’s just a scary time to be up against him.”
It’s fitting: October was the month he earned his first victory with the Cyclones in 2018, and he went 12-2 in October games overall. Funny nicknames aside, Allen believes they picked up a valuable lesson in Ames that will translate to the NFL.
“It was us against the world,” said Allen. “We always had a lot of success with that mindset, and he’s had a lot of success as an individual with that mindset where people want to say this or that about him. Like he’s just going to go back to working hard and getting better.”
As for Mr. Irrelevant? Well, Allen framed it perfectly: “He likes being the underdog. When the whole world is against him, he’s got that moxie. He’s got the can-do.”
While it’s a few months too late for Broctober, Purdy will make his first start as a 49er with the weight of the world on his shoulders up against another B: Tom Brady. And if Kolar and Allen’s assessments are correct, Purdy will be just fine.