If you're a high school football coach, and you're good, you get to watch your quarterback lead the team to a state title game.
If you're a high school football coach, and you're really fortunate, you get to watch your quarterback play Division I on Saturdays.
If you're a high school football coach, and you're charmed, you get to watch your quarterback play in the NFL on Sundays.
And if you're a high school football coach, and you're Derek Long, you get to watch two of your quarterbacks play each other in the NFC playoffs this weekend.
Drew Brees and Nick Foles, both graduates of Westlake High in Austin, Texas, will meet for the first time as opponents in Philadelphia on Saturday night. Long, who was defensive coordinator of the team Brees led to the state title in 1996, and head coach of the team Foles led to the state championship game in 2006, is slightly conflicted but highly thrilled.
"People are asking me who I'm cheering for," Long said by phone Monday night. "I hope both offenses score over 100 points."
That may be asking a lot, but Brees and Foles are capable of putting up big numbers. They lead two of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL. Brees is one of the most prolific passers in football history, while Foles has stats in his first full season that project to a long and impressive career. He already has a seven-touchdown game.
What's more odd than two top throwers coming from the same school is that neither got much interest from the university located seven miles away. In fact, the entire state whiffed on both quarterbacks.
"Their stories are kind of similar," Long said, while watching Texas' bowl game on TV. "Neither one was highly recruited. Everyone knows Drew's story – Kentucky and Purdue were the only D-I schools that offered him. Nick wasn't highly recruited. Both were kind of under the radar for some reason."
Brees went to Purdue and broke Big Ten records, then went to the NFL while Foles broke Brees' high school records. Foles committed to Arizona State, went to Michigan State and then moved on to Arizona. He was drafted in the third round in 2012, an afterthought in a draft with names like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
It's not like Westlake is a hidden gem, either. The 5A school of 2,400 students hasn't had a losing season since 1986 and has played in seven state title games under revered coach Ron Schroeder (who coached Brees), Long and Darren Allman, who followed him. The all-time, single-season interceptions leader is Huston Street, who is now a Major League Baseball closer.
You could say both quarterbacks were similarly overlooked because of their similar traits. Neither is especially quick, and neither has the obviously strong arm recruiters covet. Both, however, have more intangible gifts: a calmness in the pocket and an almost sixth-sense awareness of where to throw the ball. They both seem to know where every player is on the field, both teammates and opponents.
"There's something in the spatial relationships they see, I guess," Long said. "They anticipate where the receiver's gonna be. It's some vision skill they have that we don't."
Brees and Foles also share an understated charisma. Neither quarterback is flashy – Long said Foles shied away from media coverage even in high school – yet both are more vocal in a team setting. Brees' pregame chants, now filmed weekly for the world to see, began in the locker room at Westlake on the way to the '96 title. Foles played most of the '06 season with a shoulder injury, and said almost nothing about it as the weeks wore on.
"He played 10, 11 games with a torn rotator cuff," Long said. "He still broke all Drew's records. He never said anything. One day he just said, 'Coach, my arm's a little sore, can we concentrate on shoulder throws?' The next day, he'd be fine."
Brees also battled through a difficult injury, tearing his ACL during his junior year. The similarities are everywhere, it seems, right down to the number they wear now (9) and the fact that neither wore that number at Westlake. (Foles wore 7; Brees 15. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, yet another Westlake grad in the NFL, did wear 9 while he was Foles' teammate.) Other than the obvious height difference, they have strikingly parallel lives, right down to the number of letters in their first and last names. (Now all Foles has to do is win a Super Bowl!)
Brees has the state title, and Foles has the passing records. So who would win in a theoretical game between their prep teams?
Long is, true to his local reputation, diplomatic and humble. He defers to the team he didn't coach. "I'd have to say the '96 team would win," he said. "I think it'd be a pretty good game."
Then he hedges: "Now if we played tomorrow, the '06 team would win. Because they are younger."