This is the fourth installment of a five-part series that will run this week taking an in-depth look at the life of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Part I, on Foles' heroes -- his mom and dad -- ran Sunday. Part II on the women in his life, his mom and wife, ran Monday. Part III on how he chose football ran Tuesday.
One difficult decision Nick Foles made in May of 2008 could very well have dramatically altered the course of not only Foles’ life and career but also of the Eagles’ franchise for the next 10 years.
The decision: Leave Michigan State and enroll at Arizona.
The result: Foles got to play college football and ultimately wound up as the Eagles’ quarterback.
"When I look back at everything,” Foles says now, “I really think that you have moments in your life where you can go one way or you can go another.”
Foles, then just 18 years old, had just finished his freshman year at Michigan State. He redshirted that football season -- he got into one game against Alabama-Birmingham and threw eight passes -- and with current Redskin Kirk Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol set to battle for the Spartans’ starting quarterback job, Foles just didn’t have a reason to stay in East Lansing.
He loved Michigan State, but he knew there was a very good chance his football career would never materialize if he stayed.
“There was a moment there where I didn't know what to do, what direction to go,” he said. “I was 18, from Texas, up there, and I just prayed to have God, ‘Guide me.’ And I had tears in my eyes because I had no clue what to do.
“I talked to the family and talked to coach [Mark] Dantonio and decided it was best to go elsewhere. It was a very tough decision. I mean, I don't think I had a horrible year. I developed a lot of great friendships. (Current Eagle receiver) B.J. Cunningham was there with me. We had a lot of great times. Brent Celek's brother (Garrett) was my roommate. Love that Garrett to death.
“You’re leaving all those guys that you've developed friendships with, but I just knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.”
Foles, who had originally committed to Arizona State as a high school junior, wound up transferring to Arizona.
He joined a program that won only four bowl games in school history and hadn’t had a winning record in nine years.
Foles didn’t have much talent around him at Arizona and won just 15 of 35 starts. But Andy Reid, then the Eagles’ head coach, loved his toughness and grit and used a third-round pick to select him in the 2012 draft.
Foles showed flashes in 2012, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to complete 60 percent of his passes while throwing for at least 240 yards per game.
But he won just one of six starts on an awful team and didn’t even begin the 2013 season as the starter. But after replacing an injured Michael Vick, he blossomed, going 8-2, setting several NFL records, fashioning the third-highest passer rating in league history and earning Pro Bowl MVP honors.
If he stayed at Michigan State?
Who knows where Foles would be right now? Who knows who the Eagles' quarterback would be?
That decision was monumental.
“When I was going through the transfer process, I was going to try initially to stay in the state of Texas,” Foles said. “And no one offered. No one really even gave me a look, really.
“And Arizona, coach (Sonny Dykes, offensive coordinator) had recruited me when he was at Texas Tech. He said, ‘Hey, we’d really like you to come here, but we don’t have a scholarship. You’d have to be a walk-on the first semester.’
“It was just one of those things where making that decision to walk on at Arizona was a big life decision. ‘Do I want to do this? Should I do this?’ I knew I would regret it if I didn’t give it everything I had.”
That first season, in the fall of 2009, Foles lost a training camp battle for the starting quarterback job with Matt Scott.
But after Scott struggled the first three games, Foles became the starter and stayed there the rest of his college career.
And even though he threw for only 57 yards in his Michigan State career, he said he looks back at the experience as an important one in his development.
“I learned a lot about myself that year,” he said. “When I went to Arizona, what I went through at Michigan State equipped me to go through the battles I would have upcoming with sitting out a year, going to be the scout team quarterback every single day, going in a quarterback battle my redshirt sophomore year, not winning the quarterback battle, being a backup, and then all of a sudden I get an opportunity against Iowa and we go on an 80-yard touchdown drive and I throw it to Juron Criner [for a touchdown].
“It’s just one of those things where if I didn’t have Michigan State and went through that, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I did at Arizona. And when I say, ‘do,’ I mean able to handle the situation, every day, just not let it get to me, and just keep working.
“Everybody says it’s luck. Well, it’s, ‘Are you prepared for that opportunity when it arises?’ Because some people aren’t and then they never get another one.
“I knew at that time I would probably get one opportunity and if I didn’t show it, it might not ever happen again.”