It’s not about the 5,649 yards passing for Nick Foles during his prep career at Westlake, which broke a school record held by Drew Brees.
It’s not about the 56 touchdown passes that supplanted another school mark also held by Brees.
It’s not even about the victories, which Foles had plenty of while leading Westlake to the Class 5A, Division I state-title game in 2006.
No, former Westlake football coach Derek Long recalls, it’s about the helmet stickers.
Like most schools, Westlake doled out stickers for sacks, scores, turnovers and other big plays during Long’s six years as the Chaparrals head coach. But for the team’s offensive linemen, their heavy-duty work in the trenches often went unnoticed by anyone outside of the film room. At least, until Foles started giving his helmet stickers to his blockers.
“That’s the equivalent of an NFL quarterback giving his linemen Rolexes,” said Long, who’s now retired, from his Oak Hill home earlier this week. “Nick was always giving his stickers away to them because he didn’t think they got the recognition they deserved.
“But that’s always the thing about Nick: He gives the accolades to his teammates. It doesn’t matter if you’re the star running back or a third-string defensive lineman. He interacts the same with all of them and gives them all the same respect.”
Foles has received plenty of accolades during the Philadelphia Eagles’ run to Super Bowl LII. A six-year NFL veteran who has made 39 regular-season starts, Foles has thrown for 598 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions over two playoff games this winter. His play in place of injured starter Carson Wentz has Eagles fans giddy about their chances for a first Super Bowl championship, and it has his former high school coaches reminiscing about his time at Westlake, where he was the Chaparrals’ starting QB from 2005 to 2006.
A gifted all-around athlete, Foles also played varsity basketball for three seasons at Westlake, earning first-team all-district honors after averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds as a junior. But it was never stats nor his 6-foot-5 frame that made Foles stand out at Westlake, according to his former coaches.
“He always carried himself like what he was: a student who happened to also excel at sports,” said Westlake’s current principal Steve Ramsey, an assistant offensive coach for the school’s football team during Foles’ time with the Chaparrals. “It was never about him; it was always about the team. His teammates had a lot of respect for him.”
Foles and his teammates endured a tumultuous season in 2006. Senior captain Matt Nader, a garrulous 6-5, 300-pound offensive lineman committed to the University of Texas, suffered a near-lethal heart arrhythmia during a nondistrict game in College Station early in the season. The frightening episode, which took place on the Chaparrals’ sideline, ended Nader’s playing career.
Later in the season, Westlake suffered its first loss to neighboring rival Austin High, a result commemorated by Maroons fans on T-shirts and yard signs that popped up across West Austin.
Still, “Nick was our rock that year,” said Long, who said Foles’ quiet demeanor belies a fierce competitiveness. “No matter if we won or lost or whatever happened, he stayed the same. He was that steadying influence.”
Long, a longtime defensive coordinator for the Chaps before he succeeded Ron Schroeder as head coach in 2002, also appreciated Foles’ approach to playing quarterback.
“With Nick, you never had to yell at him, because he knew when he made a mistake,” Long said. “When he threw an interception and was walking off the field, I’d just look at him, and he’d glance at me and then just look straight ahead. You didn’t have to holler or chastise him; he knew what he did, and he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.”
Foles did more than guide a balanced Westlake offense that helped the Chaparrals reach a state final inside the Alamodome, where they lost to a Southlake Carroll squad led by current Westlake coach Todd Dodge. With Nader sidelined because of his heart ailment, Foles had to assume an additional role in the locker room.
“Matt was always more vocal; he had a big personality,” Ramsey said, “but when Matt went down, Nick took on more of a leadership role, and I think he valued that responsibility.”
Foles’ focus on his teammates didn’t end once the football season concluded. Former Westlake basketball coach Ben Faulkner said that “as soon as football season was over, the intensity and competition in (basketball) practice would pick up.”
“He was never that kid who would yell at his teammates or be that vocal,” added Faulkner, who’s now an assistant basketball coach at Cedar Park. “He just had a presence about him. He was such a good kid, and the guys around him would do anything for him. To this day, he’s buddies with a lot of those guys who played basketball.”
On Sunday, those buddies and Foles’ former coaches at Westlake likely will make up a hearty Eagles cheering section — right here in the heart of Dallas Cowboys country.
“I can’t wait for the Super Bowl, but I’m going to have to be careful,” Long said with a laugh. “If Nick throws a touchdown, I’ll probably start jumping around, and I only have 10-foot ceilings. At least I can’t quite jump as high as I used to.”