It’s almost too perfect to be real.
Brock Purdy, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who went from being “Mr. Irrelevant” to starting a playoff game in a nine-month window, is from a town that was once called the Hay Capital of the World—talk about irrelevant.
He doesn’t quite have the storybook small-town roots, though.
While Purdy was born in Queen Creek, Arizona, a town on the outskirts of the Phoenix area where you still might be able to find a cowboy hat or two, he went to high school in nearby Gilbert. While Gilbert today has swelled to a population of over 250,000, it was once the “Hay Shipping Capital of the World.”
The city’s website will quickly tell you that Gilbert isn’t known for hay anymore, and that its population is nearly 47 times larger today than it was in 1980. It’s not quite “Friday Night Lights” material, but it’s an interesting factoid nonetheless.
Gilbert’s story is representative of the Phoenix area overall, which has seen rapid population growth in recent decades. What was initially established to help build a rail line between Phoenix and Florence has become an enormous suburb larger in area than San Francisco itself and larger in population than Salt Lake City. As a whole, the Phoenix metro area has tripled in population in the last 40 years.
Purdy is, in many ways, the quintessential native of the Phoenix area. In a sea of transplants, he grew up rooting not for the local Arizona Cardinals, but for the Miami Dolphins, a team he picked up through his father’s love of Dan Marino. While most Arizonans aren’t Dolphins fans, many support a team other than the Cardinals. Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears license plates are ubiquitous in the region.
Despite Gilbert’s recent rapid growth, Purdy isn’t the first star athlete to come from the town. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a journeyman who spent 17 years in the NFL, is also from Gilbert. Perry High School, which opened in 2007, just 11 years before Purdy graduated, already has an NBA lottery pick to its name as well. Jalen Williams, who graduated a year after Purdy, played at Santa Clara and was taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 12th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
So, no, Purdy isn’t quite a farm boy. He’s probably more familiar with construction equipment than tractors. Queen Creek, where he was born, had a population of around 4,000 at the time of his birth, but has grown to nearly 60,000 in 20 years.
His college days at Iowa State put him in an agricultural setting, though. Ames, Iowa, is home to multiple United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sites, and the school is renowned for its agriculture and veterinary medicine programs.
However, Purdy wasn’t examining fistulated cows during most of his classes. He majored in communication studies.