AUSTIN, Texas — Please forgive Derek Long. It’s that time of year, and he doesn’t want to appear selfish.
See, in past NFL playoffs, there always seemed to be a quarterback from Westlake High School who was still pushing for the Super Bowl. That meant a TV crew would come by the house on a Monday, a sportswriter on a Tuesday, and so on, until it was just too many days of getting dressed up and shaving a well-tailored mustache for a football coach who's been retired for 10 years.
So let's just all stand here with Long together on this Thursday morning in the Westlake coaches office, among the scattered notebooks, cameras and tape recorders, to talk to the former Chaparrals coach about the advent and legacy of two Super Bowl MVPs.
Drew Brees and Nick Foles are meeting once again in the playoffs — two former Westlake quarterbacks who cut their teeth scorching defenses on hallowed Texas high school football fields before embarking on very different professional careers.
Can't see video below? Click here.
They first met in the playoffs when the New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 in the 2014 wild-card round, and some say Foles (195 yards, two touchdowns) got the better of Brees (250 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) that day.
But the 39-year-old Brees has long established his future Hall of Fame status with the Saints, winning the franchise's first Super Bowl in 2009 and becoming the NFL's all-time passing leader in October.
Foles, 27, is the underdog Philadelphia always needed — the back-up who led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship last season after starter Carson Wentz tore his ACL in the regular season. Foles is again leading the franchise after Wentz suffered a fractured vertebra this season.
Brees and Foles are examples of a trend that's been well-documented within Texas high school football.
An NFL-high seven starting quarterbacks are from Texas, and among the swaths of Texas high school quarterbacks that go on to play Division I college football, several played right here at Westlake, which is built into a hill that overlooks the capital city's skyline.
And if they didn't play at Westlake, there's a good chance they played at rival Lake Travis High — the alma mater of Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The pictures of former Chaparral quarterbacks are framed on the wall of the Westlake coaches office: Jimmy Saxton, who played at Texas from 1990-1991; Adam Hall, San Diego State from 2000-2002; Alvin Cowan, Yale from 2000-2003; even Sam Ehlinger, who recently led Texas to a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia on New Year's Day.
And the most successful of them all are Brees, the undersized and overlooked quarterback, who set school passing records while leading the Chaparrals to their first state championship in 1996, and Foles, the 6-foot-5 basketball star, who broke those records while Westlake reached state runner-up in 2006.
"It's hard to say how they made it and others didn't," said Long, who started as an assistant at Westlake in 1983 before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1992 and head coach in 2003.
The rise of a legacy
The blueprint for quarterback training at Westlake has been the same since Ron Schroeder became head coach in 1987.
Schroeder was the "quarterback guru," Long said, and every offseason, Schroeder took his young quarterback prospects and ran them through a three-week quarterback camp that began on Valentine's Day.
"I told the quarterbacks, 'It's you and me,' " said Schroeder, who retired in 2003 and still lives in Austin. " 'If we win, you're going to get credit. If we lose, we're both going to get blamed. So, I'm in this deal with you.' "
Schroeder said he still has film of Brees going through the camp as a sophomore.
Small and scrawny, Brees had only played flag football while attending middle school at St. Andrew's, a private school a few miles away. Schroeder remembered that Brees didn't know how to put on equipment when he arrived at Westlake as a freshman — inexperience, which contributed to his sitting out of the freshman intersquad scrimmage at the end of fall camp.
Schroeder said Brees entered the camp without much arm strength, which contributed to a "whirlybird" throwing motion, wheeling his arm almost completely full-circle to heave the ball downfield.
To fix the habit, Schroeder had Brees toss a football with his back pressed against a wall. The drill, which was part of the quarterback camp, forced quarterbacks to straighten their arms and throw the ball with the elbow even with the shoulder.
As a sophomore, Brees was buried in the depth chart. Jay Rodgers, the son of a University of Texas assistant coach, was the starting quarterback as a senior, and his sophomore brother, Jonny, was starting on the junior varsity team. Jonny ended up tearing his ACL that season, clearing the way for Brees to prove he belonged.
Even looking back at that training film now, Schroeder said, there's no physical indication that Brees would ever become one of football's greatest quarterbacks.
"Most NFL players stick out like a sore thumb," Schroeder said. "He didn't. I don't think there was anyone who knew he was going to be an NFL player."
No one thought Foles would be an NFL player either, Schroeder said, because everyone thought he was going to commit fully to basketball.
When Long took over the program upon Schroeder's retirement, he didn't even bother running Foles through the quarterback drills. Instead, Long placed him at tight end — a position Foles wouldn't emulate until catching a crucial touchdown pass on "Philly Special," a trick play that helped the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
But to the Westlake coaching staff's surprise, Foles kept coming back each season.
Foles converted to quarterback as a sophomore and backed up Turner Wimberly, who went on to play wide receiver at Vanderbilt.
Then, as a junior, Foles became the starter.
"I think it was during his junior year that we saw that he loved football," Long said.
And it's still hard to pinpoint, Long said, exactly what separated Brees and Foles from others on the wall, what drove them beyond the tens of thousands of starting high school quarterbacks in their respective seasons to become just two of 21 total quarterbacks ever to win Super Bowl MVP.
"The thing about Nick and Drew, which was real similar; when they were under pressure, they could find that open receiver," Long said. "There'd be a guy hanging on Nick's ankle, hanging on his shoulder, and he'd complete it. More than once that would happen. Chased out of the pocket, and he'd complete it downfield."
Current Westlake coach Todd Dodge remembered game-planning against Foles in the 2006 Class 5A state championship game, back when Dodge was the head coach of Southlake Carroll, which beat Westlake 43-29.
"He was a high school version of Ben Roethlisberger," said Dodge, a former quarterback for the Texas Longhorns, who was the head coach at North Texas from 2007 to 2010. "He was really, really hard to sack. He'd push people off and make plays outside the pocket."
Schroeder said Brees had the ability to throw his receivers open — a skill he was able to craft in a pass-heavy offense at Purdue under former coach Joe Tiller, who may not have been able to recruit Brees had other programs not passed on the quarterback partially because he had torn his ACL at the end of his junior season.
Schroeder also said Brees possessed the leadership qualities that would eventually be recognized when Brees was named the NFL's Man of the Year in 2006 and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 2010.
Before Westlake beat Abilene Cooper 55-15 in the 1996 Class 5A state championship in old Texas Stadium, Long said Brees had set his equipment in former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman's locker when an underclassman passed by and excitedly said that Aikman was his favorite player.
"Here," Brees said, picking up his equipment. "You can have it."
During Westlake's run at a state title with Foles, Long awarded players with helmet stickers — a reward system that was a bit skewed toward passing yards and touchdowns. But when the state championship game arrived, Foles' helmet was bare, and the offensive line's helmets gleaned with stickers.
"It was like a Rolex watch to them," Long said.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, members of the 2018 Westlake football team will trickle onto campus to eat barbecue at the team's scheduled banquet at the high school.
Of course, Dodge said, the Saints-Eagles game will be on, which will make for one of the most unique watch parties in the country.
And as Brees and Foles both chase for a second Super Bowl ring, the player who broke each of their passing records, Westlake junior Taylor Anderson, will be watching.
No one on campus really needs to choose a side, as Dodge said, "any time the ball snaps, something good can happen for Westlake."
And it will be easy for Dodge to reflect on the game's significance, with his young quarterback in the room, and his former quarterback, Ehlinger, a few miles away at the UT campus.
"I think (Ehlinger) will be in the NFL," Dodge said. "And I hope Drew can hold on long enough so that we'll have three Westlake quarterbacks in the NFL all at one time.
"I think the Austin area will continue to talk about great quarterback play in the college and professional level for years to come."