During Nick Foles' senior season at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, there was a celebration for the 10-year anniversary of Westlake's 1996 state championship football team. The quarterback from the 1996 team found a sliver of time during his work schedule to fly in for the ceremony.
His employer was the New Orleans Saints. His name was Drew Brees.
Born 10 years apart in Austin, Brees and Foles grew up in the same area of Austin and are the two most storied quarterbacks at their alma mater. On Saturday night, the Westlake alums will play in the wild card round of the NFC playoffs when the Saints visit the Eagles.
"There's going to be a lot of people (in Austin) glued to their TVs this Saturday," said former Westlake coach Derek Long, who was Foles' head coach and Brees' defensive coordinator.
In the 24 hours after the Eagles clinched a playoff bid, Long said he has already heard from former players enthused about two quarterbacks from the high school playing each other in the postseason.
Long, who retired in 2009 after 26 years at the school, said both quarterbacks had the "it factor" -- a rare ability to raise the level of their teammates by their persona.
"I really did see a lot of Drew in Nick," Long said. "Obviously Nick is taller, a lot bigger. But there were so many mannerisms and characteristics that were similar. First thing, you got two guys with high integrity and outstanding character. They did things right and they expected everybody on the team to do things right."
Long also referenced their work ethic and their pocket presence. Long said there are many players who can throw the ball far or accurately, but said it's more difficult to find a quarterback who can feel pressure and find open receivers. He considered that skill a hallmark of Brees and Foles.
Both quarterbacks led their schools to the state championship game -- Brees' 1996 team won the title, while Foles' 2006 squad lost. Foles broke Brees' passing records. Neither quarterback received a scholarship offer from nearby University of Texas, which Foles said last week was his favorite team as a child. Brees went to Purdue. Foles went to Arizona with a stop at Michigan State for a season.
Brees broke into the NFL when Foles starting playing high school football. He had already established a reputation in Austin because of what he did at Westlake and then at Purdue, where he led the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl in 34 years.
"You grow up in Westlake, you know who Drew Brees is," Foles said. "He's a role model to so many. And I've looked up to him. I'm 10 years younger than him."
Long said students at Westlake look at Foles now the way he once looked at Brees. Foles, 24, remains involved in his hometown and returns as often as he can.
"Whether he was flipping hamburgers or whatever, he's the type of person you want them to grow up to be because he does things right and is a good guy," Long said.
And it's similar to way Foles and his teammates watched Brees when Brees returned in 2006.
"I'm sure they were ogling from the sideline," Long said. "Drew set the standard."
Don't expect Foles to ogle on Saturday. He's not one whose demeanor oscillates, and he emphasized that discussing Brees is the same as discussing Tony Romo last week -- he doesn't play against the other team's quarterback. So Foles said he'll study the Saints defense, and he'll let the Eagles defense worry about Brees.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly praised Brees on Monday, comparing Brees' preparation to that of Peyton Manning. Kelly specifically referenced how Brees can read coverages and go through his progressions in the snap of the finger.
Kelly, who is in his first NFL season after 22 years coaching at the college level, is familiar with the Westlake program. But he never actively recruited one of its players, even joking that he didn't think Brees was interested in New Hampshire, where Kelly once coached.
Westlake will likely be a popular talking point throughout the week. Long said his rooting interest is in the quarterbacks scoring points, because Austin might be the one region where the allegiance is to both quarterbacks on Saturday.
"It is special," Foles said. "It's a lot credit to Westlake. That's where we're from. I'm proud to be from Westlake. Great coaches, great people, and they've helped me to where I am right now."
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