Since he’s worked with Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel, it takes a lot to amaze Kliff Kingsbury’s bewilderment.
But on a Thursday night in September 2014, he watched incredulously from the back of the end zone at Stephenville’s Memorial Stadium as high school student – and future New England Patriot – delivered a dart right before him.
“It was the real deal – quick release, it was drilled and Kingsbury is near the end zone,” Greg Winder told Stats Perform.
Kingsbury’s mouth was just like ‘Oh wow’. I knew then that he was special. “
Winder was the offensive coordinator at Stephenville High School, where Stidham was considered one of the state’s best quarterback prospects in football crazy Texas.
“He was very receptive,” Winder recalled.
“He always knew what was going on. We agreed and talked about our game plan and he knew exactly what we were trying to do and what to do.
“He was a great leader.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Stidham is again the center of attention.
The patriots seek an answer to the NFL’s top position after seeing Tom Brady leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at will.
Stidham seems the most likely candidate to pass a player considered the greatest of all time, even if his NFL experience is limited to four passes – one of which returned to New York Jets safety Jamal Adams for a pick- six in week 3 of the last season.
Fortunately, Stidham is used to the spotlight. Winder recalls that college coaches from all over the country came to see him in Stephenville.
“It was crazy, crazy,” he said.
“We would do our training and those coaches would be there to see him throw. He did not seem nervous at all. He is a natural talent. “
When he blinded future Arizona Cardinals head coach Kingsbury with his pitch against Lubbock Cooper, Stidham had already committed himself to Texas Tech.
He would eventually go to nearby Baylor and avoid a quarterback competition with future NFL MVP Mahomes.
However, that turned out to be a short stop. The football program was shaken after Baylor head coach Art Briles was fired when investigations found officials “fundamentally fail” to respond to allegations of sexual assault.
After consulting Winder on his next move, Stidham spent a year outside and then spent two seasons as Auburn’s starting quarterback before speaking out for the 2019 NFL Draft, when the Patriots selected him as Brady’s latest backup.
With Brady gone and only Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler as rivals, Stidham seemed to have a clear path to the starter job.
If he succeeds Brady, he will be scrutinized even more than usual, although Stidham, who moved in with a guardian family at eighteen, has already had to deal with a lot of pressure.
“He has experienced many different situations in his life with pressure and different conditions on and off the pitch, he will respond,” added Winder.
But can he be successful under Bill Belichick, a man who has won six Super Bowl titles as head coach, and with a team that has won the AFC East for eleven consecutive seasons?
“I just think he should be in the right organization, in the right situation,” Winder says.
“And I think he’s in the right organization and at the right time.”