Foles had quiet confidence, even in college

ASSOCIATED PRESS Nick Foles, at Arizona in 2009, threw 67 TDs in college career.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Nick Foles, at Arizona in 2009, threw 67 TDs in college career.
Posted: September 05, 2014

THE BEST quality that Nick Foles the competitor had going for him in college? For Mike Stoops, who coached the Eagles quarterback throughout most of his career at the University of Arizona, that's a layup: toughness.

"He would sit in there and throw it, no matter what," said Stoops, who was the Wildcats' head coach from 2003 through the first six games of 2011, Foles' senior season. "He didn't care how much you came after him. We threw it a lot. So everyone knew they had to hit him. And they did. Nick just stood his ground and did what he had to. I don't think people always saw that in him.

"And he never said a word.

"I remember this one time a linebacker got him right under the chin. But he still delivered the ball on a rope. To me, that's one of the most important things about playing the position. He was always cool under pressure. And at Arizona he was always under pressure. He was very confident about his game."

How about Foles the person? Again, the answer came quickly and distinctly.

"He had a unique perspective of himself," said Stoops, who is now in his third year as the defensive coordinator for his brother Bob at Oklahoma, where he worked from 1999-2003. "He had a very calm demeanor about how to live his life. His ups weren't too high, and his lows didn't get real low. He was fun to be around. He's very giving. Nothing much bothers him. That's just how he is. In a lot of ways he was unlike any kid I've met.

"It doesn't take long to see that he's low maintenance. He's not the kind of guy you'll be reading about much [for off-the-field stuff]."

Blair Willis has been a part of Arizona's Athletics Communications Services department for nearly a decade. So he spends as much time with many of the players as anyone not on the team. And he heartily shares Stoops' sentiments.

"[Foles] was so unassuming, even though he obviously had a physical presence," Willis said. "He wasn't seeking attention. And he never rubbed anyone the wrong way. There was an unselfishness about him. He didn't want it to be just about him. The minute you meet Nick, you know he means well for everybody. He made good decisions for himself. You never had to worry about that.

"It can be demanding, giving people quality time when so many of them want a piece of you. But he always treated everyone the same, whether it was a quick handshake or a lengthy conversation, with a fan, a donor, people on campus, academic advisers. He was always putting a smile on somebody else's face. It didn't matter if it took 30 seconds or 30 minutes . . .

"We've had a lot of great kids around here. Probably some were smarter, or more accomplished academically, or did some things that Nick doesn't do. But he's as good as it gets about the way he makes others feel good about themselves."

Foles, a Texas native, had originally gone to Michigan State, where he got into one game as a freshman behind junior Brian Hoyer on a team that went 7-6. After sitting out a year, Foles began 2009 as the backup in Tucson to fellow sophomore Matt Scott. In the third game, Foles got his shot in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 loss at Iowa and played well. The next week the Wildcats - who were missing a handful of starters, including tight end Rob Gronkowski - won their Pac-10 opener at Oregon State, 37-32. And that was that. They finished 8-4, including a win over nationally ranked Southern Cal, and ended up in the Top 25 for the first time since 2000.

"We kind of joked back then that we had this transfer who was about the best scout-team quarterback you could have," Willis said. "He was making throws that we hadn't seen. But he just quietly went about his business."

It wasn't all highlights. The Wildcats did lose their two bowl appearances with Foles by a combined 69-10, to Nebraska and Oklahoma State. In his senior year they went 4-8 after starting 1-5, at which point Stoops was let go. But they at least won their last two, including a trip up I-10 to Arizona State.

Foles made honorable mention all-conference three times. As a senior, the first and second-teamers were Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley.

"To a lot of people, I guess Nick did kind of fly under the radar," Stoops said. "He was never about stats, or any of that. If we won and he threw for 20 yards, he'd be happy. He was just doing his job. Once he took over, he wasn't looking back. He had a great feel for what he needed to do to get it done, the instinct and intelligence to be that guy.

"There wasn't much hype around him going to the NFL. But just like in college, when the chance came he was ready to make the most of it. It's funny that the two players behind him right now are Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. In college, they got a lot more attention. We saw Nick every day. So we had a different perspective.

"I'm sure that was motivation for him. To me he was a silent assassin. He'll tear it up if you let him."

And when it came to having an impact in the community, Foles was just as dependable. He simply didn't want anyone to know about it.

"Later in his career, I came to realize that about every Friday he would go to a children's hospital, or visit a youth group," Willis said. "But he never made it a big deal or anything. It was what he did. He's very genuine that way. Obviously our job is to try and publicize those things. But when people asked, he would tell us not to give out any specifics. Even with me, he never really wanted to go into much detail. We kind of knew what was going on. But you can certainly respect that.

"Whenever you needed him to come do this or that, 90 percent of the time he said yes and was always very prompt and thorough. But then there was the 10 percent where he'd say, 'Hey, not today. I've got something else going on.' And you knew it was for something more important. He had his priorities straight. So it's not surprising to see that he seems to be handling everything [in Philadelphia] the right way. I don't think he's ever going to change."


On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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