On the way to Westlake High’s annual football banquet Sunday afternoon, 500 fans and players' family members will walk down the same hallways Drew Brees and Nick Foles once walked. Around the corner will be the locker rooms they dressed in, the film rooms they studied in, their old practice fields and classrooms and their old football stadium.
When the banquet starts, guests will toast the 2018 Westlake football team, one that came within a game of a state championship appearance — and also watch two of the Chaparrals' favorite sons duel to move on to the NFC championship game.
Brees starred at this high school football powerhouse on the west side of Austin from 1992 to 1996, leading Westlake to a 28-0-1 record and its only state title as a two-year starter. Foles, another two-year starter, graduated in 2007, breaking a few of Brees’s records along the way and leading Westlake to another state title game appearance.
Their meeting Sunday will be the second time in their combined 25 seasons in the NFL that they’ll play against one another in the postseason; Brees’s Saints beat Foles’s Eagles in the opening round after the 2013 season. It’s thought to be the third time in NFL history that quarterbacks from the same high school will play against each other in the playoffs; Terry Bradshaw and Joe Ferguson of Woodlawn High in Shreveport, La., faced off in 1974, while quarterbacking the Steelers and Bills. Sunday will surely be the first time two opposing playoff quarterbacks from the same high school both own Super Bowl MVPs.
And around Westlake, a school of about 2,800 students where football is a way of life and keeping track of players in college or the pros is a constant hobby, the hallways are buzzing.
As Todd Dodge, the athletic director and football coach, hands out team awards and reminisces about Westlake’s 2018 season at the banquet, the booster club will beam the Saints-Eagles game from a projector in the background.
“We’ll eat first, and then there will be about 500 Westlake football fans watching and rooting them on,” Dodge said in a phone interview.
Photos of Brees and Foles and the teams they played on hang in Westlake’s hallways. Their names used to top the school’s record books, but they have been replaced by 2015 and 2016 starter Sam Ehlinger, now the quarterback at the University of Texas, and 2017 and 2018 starter Taylor Anderson. Ehlinger made headlines this month by wearing Brees’s high school jersey before the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and again during his postgame news conference.
“I honestly wanted to play like him, have a little magic. I was just paying my respect to him,” Ehlinger said, while Brees called Ehlinger “a stud” in social media posts. The Saints veteran has also had kind words for Foles, who started for Westlake in 2006 when Brees’s state title team celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
“Funny how things play out,” Brees recently told reporters. “But he’s done a phenomenal job.”
Westlake quarterbacks still watch film of Brees’s mechanics and quick release. And before Foles caught a touchdown pass when the Eagles ran “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII, Ehlinger scored on the same play, which is called “Money 5” in the Westlake playbook. “It’s a Westlake thing,” Ehlinger wrote on Twitter.
It all points to a quarterbacking tradition that runs deep at Westlake. Starting under center for the Chaps, as they’re known around town, is one of the greatest honors of a student’s time in high school, Anderson and Dodge both said.
“Our quarterbacks have a responsibility to be a role model for younger players,” said Dodge, who was a low-level assistant coach when Brees played for the school and coached a rival team during Foles’s career. “A lot of times when you’re the quarterback at Westlake, there are third- and fourth-graders that you’re their favorite football player. When you’re out having a pizza with your buddies, everyone in the restaurant knows who you are.
“We all take it seriously that we hold up [Brees’s and Foles’s] example. There’s no doubt our players, year in, year out, know about the legacy of our quarterbacks.”
Dodge uses the two pros' example to motivate younger players and keep the team’s veterans focused. Brees, for example, didn’t play tackle football until high school and was considered too small and scrawny to start for a powerhouse such as Westlake. (The school has so many students come out for the football team, it fields two freshman squads plus a team for sophomores along with the regular junior varsity and varsity.)
Brees first played for the B freshman team, then the A freshman team and worked his way up to the JV and then varsity by his junior year. Anderson, undersized himself at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, started on the B team, too, as a freshman. His parents even asked the coaching staff to move him to wide receiver so he could get more playing time, Dodge said.
But the coach turned them down. “Don’t worry,” Dodge told them. “He’s a quarterback.”
The players who followed Brees know his story well.
“Drew Brees was my motivation throughout high school because B team, A team, it doesn’t matter. Just get to varsity and compete for the job,” Anderson said in a phone interview. He passed for 2,328 yards and 31 touchdowns and ran for 771 yards and 10 more scores his senior season; he’s currently evaluating college options.
“[Foles and Brees] are a big motivator to keep the legacy of Westlake football going,” Dodge said. “They help my job more than they’ll ever know.”
Both quarterbacks return to Austin periodically to visit family. When they do, they’ll often stop by Westlake to talk with the coaches and the current class of quarterbacks.
The last time Foles stopped by the high school, he worked out with the wide receivers and tight ends. Brees and Dodge also text regularly. Before Texas played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, he asked for Ehlinger’s number so he could offer some encouragement before kickoff.
“There’s just an amazing amount of pride for those two,” Dodge said. “Drew and Nick have been tremendous ambassadors for our school and community.”
And at the banquet, he said, he doesn’t expect fans to be pulling more for the Saints or the Eagles. They’ll just want a high-scoring game — with plenty of passing yards.
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