Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

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Arizona transfer put Nick Foles on path to Eagles

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.”

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

After handling two inferior opponents in the Browns and Bears, the Eagles' Week 3 matchup with the Super Bowl-hopeful Steelers was viewed as a barometer to gauge just how good Carson Wentz and Co. really were.

Despite their 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers, no one came rushing to label the Eagles as the team to beat in the NFC nor as legitimate Super Bowl contenders less than a quarter of the way through the season, and understandably so. 

But as the Eagles go on their Week 4 bye, the national media has begun to buy stock in the Birds as a playoff team following their 3-0 start, a far cry from the bottom-five team many projected them to be in 2016.

Here's what they're saying about the Eagles during their bye week:

Power Rankings
Many in the national media expected the Eagles to flop in 2016, but since the start of the season the Birds have experienced a rapid rise in power rankings. 

ESPN: No. 7 

CBS Sports: No. 5 

FOX Sports: No. 5 

NFL.com: No. 6

USA Today:  No. 4

Carson Wentz for ... MVP?
Through the first three games of his NFL career Carson Wentz has been nothing short of stellar. The rookie quarterback has posted a 64.7 completion percentage, five touchdowns and a 103.8 passer rating, all while throwing zero interceptions. 

Is it safe to say Wentz is the early leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Sure. How about for league MVP? It may sound crazy, but Jeff Dooley of The Washington Post would tab Wentz as the Most Valuable Player through three weeks for being the league’s best quarterback thus far.

"Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is off to the best three-game start that Pro Football Focus has ever recorded from a rookie QB in 11 seasons of grading players,” Dooley wrote. “His 90.5 grade (on a 0-100 scale) is not only better than the three-game starts of each of the star rookies from 2012’s renowned QB class (Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom led their teams to the playoffs in Year 1, and by season’s end ranked among PFF’s top 15 quarterback grades), but it is the top mark among all QBs so far for the 2016 NFL season.”

Show the defense some love too
Enough Carson Wentz talk, how about this Eagles defense?

Jim Schwartz’s unit paces the NFL in total points allowed (27), is third in total sacks (10), fourth in yards per game (274.3) and seventh in total turnovers (eight).

Under the tutelage of Schwartz this defense has come a very long way since last season, when opposing offenses torched the Eagles for an average of 26.9 points on 400-plus yards per game. 

According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, that improved defense is so important because it’s going to keep the Eagles alive in games when Wentz is having a rough outing.

"With Fletcher Cox making an early case for consideration behind Von Miller in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, Brandon Graham in a defense better suited to his talents and a playmaking safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles defense is soaring,” Patra wrote. “Through three games it's the prefect mesh of talent and scheme. If Wentz ever stumbles this season, the Eagles' D will be there to help prop up the rookie and get through a rough outing or three."

Playoffs?
The Eagles had the longest odds (plus-600) by a wide margin to come out of the NFC East before the season began. Now, they’re the favorites (2/1) to capture the division crown as they sit alone atop the NFC East.

There's still a lot of football left to be played, including all six division games, but the Birds simply reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach would be an impressive feat. 

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated the Eagles' ceiling is even higher than just a division title and a playoff berth.

"It shouldn’t be happening this fast for the Eagles, coming up from 7-9 with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback from North Dakota State and a defense that needed a new leader," King wrote. "But it is, and there’s nothing fluky about it. The Eagles are legitimate deep-into-January contenders right now."

2017 NFL draft prospect watch: Corey Davis, James Washington, Courtland Sutton

2017 NFL draft prospect watch: Corey Davis, James Washington, Courtland Sutton

We lead this prospect watch with what else but wide receivers to help Eagles rookie phenom Carson Wentz.

We also look at an offensive lineman to help protect Wentz, a corner that could help Jim Schwartz's defense, and a local running back getting lost in a deep class.

Here are six players to watch on Saturday:

Corey Davis, senior WR, Western Michigan (6-3/213)
Davis' stock is skyrocketing and deservedly so. This kid can play. He's put up 24 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns in four games. He'll take on Central Michigan, who took down Oklahoma State earlier this season. Watching Davis for the first hour of that game will be a nice appetizer before some of the bigger matchups.

Western Michigan at Central Michigan, 7 p.m.

James Washington, junior WR, Oklahoma State (6-1/205)
I profiled Washington earlier this week and now he'll get some decent competition against No. 22 Texas. He had a monster game against Pitt a couple weeks ago (9 catches, 296 yards, two TDs), but has lacked consistency overall this season.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 22 Texas, 12 p.m.

Courtland Sutton, redshirt sophomore WR, SMU, (6-4/215)
A tight end in high school, Sutton's speed was too great to keep playing that position. A redshirt sophomore, Sutton is averaging 24.9 yards a catch with four touchdowns this season. He'll be in our own backyard this Saturday afternoon when he takes on Temple at the Linc.

SMU at Temple, 12 p.m.

Chad Wheeler, senior OT, USC (6-6/310)
Wheeler's issues have nothing to do with his ability. He's a stud with great size and above average athleticism. But the massive left tackle has had issues off the field and with injuries. He should dominate against Arizona State on Saturday night.

USC vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m.

Cordrea Tankersley, senior CB, Clemson (6-1/200)
Tankersley could've joined the seven Clemson defenders that jumped to the NFL, but he decided to come back after having a strong junior campaign (19 passed defended, five picks). Tankerlsey has ideal NFL size and above average ball skills. His speed, which isn't quite elite level, will be tested against Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson and his speedy receivers.

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 3 Louisville, 8 p.m.

Corey Clement, senior RB, Wisconsin (5-11/227)
The Glassboro, New Jersey native has been hampered by injuries but did manage to score two touchdowns in Wisconsin's upset of No. 17 Michigan State last week. With this running back class being so deep, Clement could be a sleeper that gets lost in the shuffle. He'll have a tall task competing against No. 4 Michigan on the road.

No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan, 3:30 p.m.