Matt Campbell was on his way to an in-home recruiting visit a week ago today when he received a frantic call from his wife. His two young sons Rudy and Rocco had been watching the 49ers game, hoping to catch their favorite player on the sidelines. Then everything changed.
"My wife calls me and she says, 'The boys say Brock [Purdy] is going into the game,'" Campbell, the Iowa State head coach, recounted this week over the phone. "I had the parents (of the QB recruit) put the game on, so we got to watch the second half, which was really awesome. Obviously good for recruiting, but most importantly, just a really powerful moment to be able to watch that transpire. And really proud of what we got to see."
Purdy, the former Cyclones star, will start for the 49ers again today against the Buccaneers. A seventh-round pick who was the final selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, Purdy came on in relief following Jimmy Garoppolo's foot injury and completed 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to lead the 49ers to a win over the Dolphins. Or, more of what Campbell was used to seeing in college.
"This kid has been a transformational figure really every stage of his life, quite honestly," Campbell said. "He has always been a guy where if he had a moment come, he's been ready to capitalize on it. He has transformed every situation that he has been a part of. From high school, taking over a program that was not a perennial power and leading them to a state championship game, to Iowa State, which we know has not been a traditional power of any sort, and taking it the Big 12 Championship and a Fiesta Bowl win. Man, this guy has always risen to the moment and I think he has because who he is is greater than what he's done as a football player."
Purdy looked poised and competent a week ago. And San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said that's been the case this week, as well.
"You never know when a guy gets the first week where everyone's looking at him, sometimes they get nervous and then the players start to look at each other if it's bad," Shanahan said this week. "But it wasn't that case at all. He was same guy as he has been and we expect that to stay."
Garoppolo, the 31-year-old pending free agent with 57 career starts and a 40-17 record, is considered likely to be out for the rest season.
Shanahan said this week that Garoppolo has a "big recovery" ahead, but less than originally anticipated because he doesn’t need foot surgery and did not suffer ligament damage. Shanahan said Garoppolo has a "way outside chance" of being back late in the playoffs, but if Purdy took them to the Super Bowl and Garoppolo hadn't played at all, is it realistic Garoppolo would then play? Unlikely.
The 49ers also said Garoppolo did not suffer a dreaded Lisfranc injury, though a source said Garoppolo did break the same bone that is involved in a Lisfranc injury -- but no ligament damage. One estimate of his recovery time to be fully ready to play football -- after staying off his foot completely for at least six weeks -- is three months. That would mean Garoppolo would be fully cleared with no restrictions just prior to the start of free agency. Unlike this past offseason, when shoulder rehab affected his free-agent choices, there would be no issues this time.
With Trey Lance expected to return from his ankle injury with plenty of time for the 2023 season, the 49ers have options. Sources said last week the team and Garoppolo were both open to him returning next year, and that's still on the table. Time will tell if Purdy's play alters things.
Tom Brady, who arrives back home to play the 49ers, is also a pending free agent. While there will no doubt be plenty of rumors, all options currently exist for Brady -- returning to Tampa, retiring (which was his plan to start this tumultuous season), or being a free agent and landing somewhere else.
But for now, it's Purdy, who stands just 6-foot-1 and is ISU's all-time leader in wins. Campbell describes him more as a person than a player, lauding his makeup and competitiveness. He is grounded and secure and has always been on a mission.
"When the 49ers scout came in during the season, he said, 'Man, this Brock Purdy had this incredible camp,'" Campbell recounted. "And I said, 'I'm gonna tell you. Something is going to happen and this guy is going to make you really proud that you guys drafted him.' He's an elite competitor and he's the same guy every day. So, I really wasn't shocked that that happened. He's got some of those really special intangibles that make really special quarterbacks."
As 49ers teammates have recounted this week, Purdy holds everyone accountable regardless of who they are. It was that way in college, too. Campbell says Purdy's the most competitive human he's ever come across and he conducts himself that way, as well. He helped build ISU to heights they had never reached, doing it without many four- or five-star recruits and showcasing uncanny consistency and accuracy.
It all became clear to Campbell during Purdy's first meaningful playing time in college.
They were playing a ranked Oklahoma State team that was senior-laden, while Iowa State's squad had a quarterback hurt and Purdy not yet having played. Plus, they didn't have injured star running back David Montgomery either, so it was all on the QB.
"Our senior QB who got hurt early in the season came up to me and said, 'Coach I think you got to play the freshman,'" Campbell said. "If I play this freshman we're gonna have to be all in. But we put Brock in and he led back-to-back incredible drives, and we end up beating Oklahoma State (48-42) on the road. On the second TD he scores in the game, he pulls the ball, fakes a bubble screen and runs like 25 yards for a touchdown, and I remember saying on the headset, 'I don't know what's going to happen, this kid's going to win a ton of football games here.' The kid is special."