In 1996, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the Westlake High School Chaparrals to a victory in the Texas State Championship Game. Ten years later, the Chaparrals once again found themselves playing for a state title, only to come up short. They were led by the man who had broken Brees' school records - a 6-foot-6 quarterback named Nick Foles.
Separated by a decade, Brees and Foles both left their mark on their Austin-based high school. During Foles' senior season, Brees came back for homecoming as part of the 10-year reunion of the 1996 championship team, but the two hadn't met until last season when the Eagles traveled to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to play the Saints.
"I've always watched him from afar," Foles said at his Tuesday press conference. "He's a great player and one of the best to ever play the game at the position. He's a guy I've watched and learned from and he's done a lot of great things throughout his career, on and off the field, and he's a great role model for fellow players, kids and adults.
"He and his team at Westlake won a State Championship in 1996, and that's something that we inspired to do when I was there. We played in the State Championship game my senior year and we ended up losing it, but it was definitely something that we looked to. 10 years apart we played in the State Championship. They had a great team back then, and he was a great quarterback in high school, college, and he's done a great job in the NFL."
Foles and Brees may have played for the same high school, but they play the quarterback position in different ways. At 6-feet, Brees often shifts around the pocket in order to see downfield past the big bodies at the line of scrimmage. Standing six inches taller, Foles doesn't have to deal with that issue. Despite the height difference, Foles still finds himself looking up to the Saints signal-caller for the way that he takes care of his business.
"When he's out there, he's a warrior," Foles said. "There aren't many guys who can make the throws that he makes. You can just tell that there is an intensity when he plays the game. He has great intensity and he's an underrated athlete. He's a tremendous athlete. I've seen pictures of him dunking on goalposts and certain things. You can just see his leadership, and I've always looked up to him as a leader. I think he's a great guy and a great quarterback, but on and off the field he's the same guy, and I respect that about him."
The storyline of Foles versus Brees will be featured often leading into Saturday night's game, but Foles is more preoccupied with the matchup against the Saints stingy defense. New Orleans allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the league (194.1) and they also finished fourth in sacks (49).
"They're a talented group," said Foles. "They're a very well-rounded team, a very well-coached team. They're going to mix it up with their coverages. They're going to try to put pressure on you at times and they're going to try to get to you. I think the key to that is that we have to recognize as a team when they're trying to put pressure on. As the quarterback, I have to recognize which coverage they want to play and what pressure (they're going to bring), and that's what this week of preparation is all about. We're trying to figure out what they're going to do, and I'm sure they'll have new things ready to go for us."
The Eagles will also have new things planned for the Saints. That's a guarantee with Chip Kelly at the helm. In college, Foles spent years playing against Kelly, and now that he's had plenty of time to play for him, there is one difference in particular that he's noticed from Oregon's Chip Kelly compared to the one in Philadelphia.
"I think the big that I've noticed is that he doesn't wear a visor," Foles joked. "I was thinking about that the other day during the game. I was looking over at him in a hat, and I don't know if that's an NFL thing or what, but I'm always used to seeing him in that big old visor, so that's probably one of the adjustments that I had to make.
"When you played Oregon, you had to stay on top of them because if you ever let them breathe, they jumped out at you. I remember from playing them, we'd be up sometimes in the first half, and all of a sudden in the second half they'd get three scores and then your back is against the wall. They had a very well-coached team when he was the head coach, and I can see why they were successful, because he's a great head coach.
"He teaches you things as a man, to make you a better person off of the field, and then as a coach he teaches you a lot of great X's and O's. When you have a head coach like that, it really goes a long way and it really keeps our team together."