Foles showing he's a true leader

"Nick does a good job of serving everybody well,"an Eagles teammate said of quarterback Nick Foles (9). DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
"Nick does a good job of serving everybody well,"an Eagles teammate said of quarterback Nick Foles (9). DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: December 02, 2013

When he found out he had been traded to the Eagles, one of the first people Emmanuel Acho reached out to was Nick Foles.

He needed a place to crash, and while they had only a casual acquaintance, Acho said he knew enough of Foles to know that (a) the Eagles quarterback would take him in, and (b) living with him wouldn't be difficult.

"He's very humble. I feel like that's the first characteristic that comes to mind," Acho, a linebacker, said last week. "Nick is probably my best friend in this locker room. And so, from a guy that's been able to experience it firsthand, he's been blessed with a lot, but you couldn't tell."

In a recent article about Christian Hackenberg on Grantland.com, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said that "good quarterbacks have some things in common: They've got good poise, they're smart, and they're good team guys, buddies with everyone on the team."

Foles appears to have all three. His three starts after a woeful performance against the Cowboys in October showed poise. His intellect has never been in question, but the former Arizona quarterback has exhibited a deft understanding of Chip Kelly's offense from the start.

And like Michael Vick, it's impossible to find a teammate who has anything remotely negative to say about him. From offense to defense, starter to reserve, top of the roster to the bottom, Foles has ingratiated himself to his teammates in less than two seasons.

"I think Nick has that and I think that's something a lot of coaches don't necessarily understand or pay attention to," linebacker Connor Barwin said. The key to such players, he said, is "they don't isolate themselves."

While his legitimacy as a franchise quarterback remains in question and the topic of leadership a nebulous one, Foles said that his relationship with his teammates is genuine and that it's something that comes naturally.

"That's just me, who I am," Foles said. "We have good people and I just enjoy being around all the guys. It does make an impact when you have a relationship with a guy because he's going to go out there and probably play harder for you because he knows you got his back. He knows you on a personal level."

Foles, a native of Austin, Texas, and Acho, who attended the University of Texas there, first met through common friends. They got reacquainted at the 2012 Senior Bowl and kept in touch through the draft process.

When he was dealt to the Eagles for running back Dion Lewis in April, Acho said he texted Foles, "Hey, Nick, hope you got space for me." Foles' response: "Come stay with me."

"We understand who we are and I knew he was a great guy," Foles said. "He needed a place to stay . . . and he came and we got to know each other better, I got to know his family, and a great relationship has formed because of it."

Acho's parents are from Nigeria, Foles' from Texas. Acho's father, Sonny, is a psychologist and minister. Foles' father, Larry, is a restaurateur and self-made millionaire.

But they have many similarities, having been raised to be devout Christians and to assist those less fortunate. Acho said those principles extend to football, where you must work beside players who are sometimes the polar opposite.

"To be a great leader, you have to be a great servant, and I think that's very overlooked in this culture and in this league," Acho said. "Nick does a good job of serving everybody well, whether it's taking guys out to eat or grabbing water on the way in when somebody's too lazy to walk over to the cooler."

DeSean Jackson was vocal in support of Vick during the Eagles' quarterback competition, one time predicting that he would top Foles (which Jackson pointed out Tuesday he did). But the wide receiver, on the day Kelly announced Foles had supplanted Vick, said Foles didn't have to win the team over.

"I don't think there's anything out of the ordinary he had to do," Jackson said. "Nick did a good job of coming in last year and finishing strong for our team. . . . I think people are comfortable with him and at the same time have confidence in him."

Still, Vick had a sway over the locker room for more than four years. Many of the players grew up idolizing him or at least respecting what he done throughout his career.

"Obviously with Mike, because how old he is and what he's done in the past, his veteran leadership . . . guys had a little more respect with him," center Jason Kelce said. "But Nick's the type of guy that goes in there every time he's in the huddle he asserts himself."

Over the last month, as Vick rehabbed his injured hamstring and Foles slowly assumed the starting spot, you could feel a shift in the locker room as the veteran quarterback took a step back.

Vick was asked if he thought the players were now behind Foles.

"Yeah, I think so. I mean, I can't really say, but we have to be," he said. "It's no other way. Anything other than that would be selfish."

Vick has unselfishly moved aside for Foles. And the Eagles have followed their new quarterback. Winning, naturally, has helped. But Foles has an aura of confidence that Kelce said has the players trusting him even if they are to encounter rough patches.

"Even in the Dallas game, when we weren't able to get anything going and he was struggling, you didn't see it faze him," Kelce said. "That's what you want. You want a guy that's supremely confident that eventually things are going to start falling your way."

Foles and Acho are regular attendees of the Eagles' bible study. Receiver Jason Avant organizes the gathering, but the team chaplain leads a group of 15 or so players through the meetings.

The most recent topic has been what it takes to be a real man, according to Acho. While many things are involved in accomplishing that goal and, of course, many interpretations of what it requires, Acho said he consistently sees it from Foles.

"After the Raiders game [when Foles threw seven touchdowns] I asked him what he did with all the touchdown balls and he said he didn't keep any of them," Acho said. "And I was like, 'Wait, what?' And he said, 'It wasn't about me.'

"As soon as he told me that, I was like, 'This guy, he has it figured out.' "


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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