This is the cover story for the December 31 edition of Gameday Magazine. You can pick up a copy at the Eagles Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field or Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets.
Nelson Agholor sits beside his locker inside the NovaCare Complex on a recent Wednesday just after practice. He is spending a few moments going through letters sent to him from fans. He pulls out a No. 13 midnight green jersey with his name on the back, takes a look at an attached note and reaches for a black Sharpie marker to give the letter writer what he wanted: an autographed jersey.
It had been a long day for Agholor who arrived at the facility hours before the 9 a.m. team meeting to get a jump-start on the day - watching film, catching balls from the JUGS machine. And the day had hardly begun. There were still more meetings and film study ahead. But Agholor, who embraces every opportunity to improve his game. He put down the newly signed jersey to talk about a quote he had seen and then retweeted early that morning.
"Two things define you: Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything."
It's fitting considering everything that has transpired in Agholor's first three NFL seasons. The former first-round pick of the Eagles in 2015 (No. 20 overall) struggled before finding his footing in 2017. The 24-year-old Agholor had 56 catches for 648 yards and three touchdowns in 2015 and 2016 combined. This year, he's second on the team with 59 receptions to go along with 757 yards and nine total touchdowns.
"I will tell you when I read that quote it resonated with me because the reality was I've always been a hard worker," Agholor says. "It's not that I didn't work hard. Things weren't going my way, but at the end of the day, you have to understand that you cannot change your work ethic. You cannot change your goals. You cannot change your hunger because things aren't going your way. You can't quit. Now that things are looking good, I don't change my hunger. I don't change my goals. I don't change my habits.
"I don't really think about what I went through (in the past). It's football. Sometimes you don't make the greatest plays. For me, it was about continuing to get better each year and trying to get comfortable with being who I know I could truly be. It's not about me feeling like, 'Oh my God, everything was terrible.' Not everybody steps into this league and dominates Year 1 or Year 2. You have to have the mindset of progression each year and trust that. I think that for me that's where I'm at and I'm happy that people trusted the continual growth in me and people put me in position to continually grow."
He's also been put in a better position on the field under the tutelage of new wide receivers coach Mike Groh. Agholor was moved into the slot receiver role after Jordan Matthews was traded during Training Camp and has added an explosive element to the offense. Agholor, at 6-0, 198 pounds, has quickly turned into one of the most productive receivers in the league out of the slot.
"I think it gave me an opportunity to make plays and move around in different ways, but at the end of the day I want to do whatever I need to do to prepare myself for this team," Agholor says. "I'm happy that the slot has allowed me the opportunity to show other skill sets than I would have shown outside because it's quick passes, quick twitches, things like that. At the end of the day, I love that I'm playing inside but I'm a wide receiver. I'm not a slot receiver. I play wherever I need to play to get the football and help the team win football games."
Agholor is playing his best football as the 13-2 Eagles are set to wrap up the regular season today against Dallas before holding home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The game that highlights his remarkable turnaround was the Week 13 game in Seattle. Agholor had a career-high 141 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. It was in Seattle last season where Agholor had a penalty that wiped out a Zach Ertz touchdown as well as a costly drop in the loss. The Eagles sat him the following week against Green Bay. Some players, especially top draft picks, never recover from such a setback. But the Eagles have established a culture and family environment that promotes the development of players.
"This is a great place for me and situation for me just to be myself, to have fun, play fast, and win football games. It means a lot, so many people have my back. I'm very appreciative of that. It's something I never take for granted that people will have my back no matter what," Agholor says.
"That's one thing I'll always be appreciative about (head coach) Doug (Pederson). When Doug came in last year, he taught me something every opportunity he could in terms of teaching me plays, conversations, relationships. Everybody put something in me to make sure I got better each day. Those are things I'm appreciative of. The (2016) season was the season. We didn't win as many games as we'd like as a team. As an individual, you're down on yourself but at the end of the day, you have to say, 'OK, this was Year 2. I have to be better in Year 3.' I didn't set a number statistically for myself. It was me focused on being a year better. And that's what I'll do for Year 4 as well."
The Eagles also upgraded the talent around Agholor at the position this past offseason bringing in veterans Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Agholor took the challenge for playing time head-on and his teammates noticed a different player back in the spring.
"There was a point where he wasn't a starter coming into the (Organized Team Activities). I think that took some of the pressure off of him," safety Malcolm Jenkins recalls. "I know he came back a lot more confident, a lot more ready to go and compete. He had a different mindset back in OTAs and it was evident. I think moving him to the slot better suited his skill set. All of a sudden he's making more plays.
"Every play he made, he got more confidence and that just built from OTAs all the way through minicamp to the point where by the time we got to Training Camp I knew he'd have a solid year because he was a totally different player. He was a lot more comfortable in the role that we were asking to do and it showed this year."
Agholor is having fun, bringing energy, and showing the talent that made him one of the premier playmakers in college football at USC. And he is happy. But, importantly he is just as happy for his teammates when they make the big play.
"I built habits with my own family that allowed me to embrace the family-like atmosphere here. I think that's one of the strengths of all of us. We treat each other like brothers and take care of one another. We all care about each other. We hold each other accountable and have each other's backs. That's the most important thing for us right now is that being a family has allowed us to be unselfish and give of ourselves to our brothers so that we can do special things," Agholor says.