AUSTIN — As a kid, Derek Long had plenty of NFL player cards. He specifically remembers having Fran Tarkenton, Bart Starr, and other players.
Nowadays, he’s a retired high school coach that’s coached the likes of Drew Brees, Justin Tucker, and of course, Nick Foles.
Looking back, he said it’s crazy to see boys he coached playing as men on the biggest stage of the sport. And even though he’s had years to become accustomed to seeing it, the aura of that realization may never wear off.
“[The coaching staff] just wanted the guys to learn some lessons about life and be good people when they got out of college or high school and handle the situations of life,” Long said. “It is kind of funny to think that somebody I coached is in the NFL. It makes me go back to when I was little.”
Last week was big for his former signal-caller. Foles had a near-perfect outing, despite what others said he could or could not do.
To Long, CBS color commentator Troy Aikman was one who seemed surprised by Roles’ performance. Long recounted Aikman, at half time, saying Foles was having a pretty “decent” game. Long, though, remembered his former pupil accounting for more than 200 yards and playing like a quarterback brimming with star power.
He said though he’s seen it all when it comes to Nick, it still irks him.
“I really took it personal. It’s like, ‘what are you talking about?’ What do you mean he had a ‘decent’ first half? He threw for 200 yards,” Long said.
He had plenty of faith in Foles. So much so, he uses him in his family playoff challenge.
“I have faith, I have confidence in him,” Long continued. “He’s going to go out there and do his best, I hope he’s going to go out there and surprise a lot of other people this week.”
It’s been brought up again and again. At this point, almost everyone knows Foles and Drew Brees played at the same high school. What isn’t brought up is how the two are similar.
Until now, Brees — who is 10 years older — has had a more storied NFL career. Long, who was the defensive coordinator at Westlake while Brees played in Austin, sees the similarities between the future Hall of Famer and Foles, the man that will try to outduel Tom Brady and the Patriots.
“Their teammates respect them and they want to play hard for them,” Long said. “Our philosophy was to have a team concept. If somebody got hurt, somebody stepped up and make a play. I think they do that with their respective teams now.
“They have that aspect, as far as the leadership aspect. They’re the kind of people, if you tell them they can’t do something, they’re going to stare you down and say, just watch me. That’s the kind of attitude you want.”
For now, the future is uncertain. Questions, still abound. Will the Eagles win the Super Bowl or will they lose.
With one comes others.
Will Foles get a chance to start elsewhere? Could he be used as trade bait?
Carson Wentz is the definite starter in Philadelphia. He has a solid backup, if should Foles stay. Regardless of the situation, Foles has kept his head on straight — something Long says he’s proud of. Through all the adversity in college, the thoughts of retirement from the NFL, he said few would ever have known how tough it was for Foles.
That’s what makes Long so proud, that Foles went from a kid in Austin to a man in Philadelphia leading the Eagles to its first Super Bowl berth in 13 years.
More importantly, neither the rises nor the falls have seemed to change him much.
“I really, really like that he’s had this opportunity for success,” Long said. “That’s the kind of people you like to see them go through high school, the challenges of college and NFL. To know at one point he was the shaggy headed little kid, trying to be a part of our football team.”
Visiting the past
This isn’t Foles first time in a championship game. It’s unquestioned this is the biggest game of his life, but take a trip down memory lane and you’ll find his Westlake team playing in the state championship game in 2006.
The Chaparrals lost that matchup to Southlake Carroll, but that didn’t matter to much in the end. Long said one thing the coaches always told the players was to not let that moment define who you become.
He said the disappointment, hard work and more learned in high school football translates to real life. Learning from mistakes, Long added, only makes you better.
Philadelphia Pride in Texas
It’s strange how a state with two NFL teams can have its capital overrun with fans from a rival team. That’s not to say the entire city of Austin is pulling for the Eagles but having a guy like Foles, with an amazing story like he’s built this postseason surely helps.
For Long, he’s excited. He knows what Nick Foles can do, and believes he’s shown enough to garner respect. Should the Eagles win it all, Long said he may have to contact a roofing professional.
“I’ll be real excited for sure,” Long said. “There might be a hole in the ceiling in my living room from me jumping up. It’ll be kind of emotional because I know the road he’s traveled and it hasn’t been easy. I know the type of kid he is.”
Gerald Tracy is an assistant editor of Texas football for TexasHSFootball, covering prep football in the San Antonio region. Follow Gerald on Twitter, @GTracySports, and read more of his content here.
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