The Evolution of Nick Foles
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat
University of Arizona meets UCLA in an NCAA football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Oct. 24, 2009. Arizona up 13-3 at the half
Nick Foles came to Tucson in 2008 as a 19-year-old transfer with only eight collegiate pass attempts to his name.
At the time, the ASU commit turned Michigan State backup was still searching for the right program to help him transform his NFL intangibles into collegiate success.
Three years, 23 games, 39 touchdowns and 5,677 yards later, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback is now the face of not only UA football, but the entire athletic department.
Foles proved last season that he could put up big-time numbers, ranking second in the Pacific 10 Conference in passing yards and sixth in the NCAA in completion percentage.
But for Foles to step into the role of Arizona’s unquestioned leader and Arizona’s big man on campus, the Austin, Texas, native needed to take the reins this summer and make the Wildcats his team.
Teammates say Foles has done all of that and more this offseason. Now, the fate of the Wildcats rests in his right arm.
“He’s much more confident and a better leader,” said head coach Mike Stoops of Foles’ growth. “He’s just become a more complete player and really embraced the role of taking the team and putting it on his back, and doing what he can do to give us a great chance of winning. He does everything he can to put us in a positive direction.”
Foles further developed those leadership skills this summer at the Manning Passing Academy, where he and 35 other Division I quarterbacks served as counselors. Foles learned from Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Archie Manning, with other top quarterbacks like Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
Foles brought that newfound knowledge back to Tucson where he organized 7-on-7 drills this summer, helping the Wildcats grow as not only a team but also a family, teammates said. During scrimmages he walked both sidelines, giving his input on both sides of the ball.
Backup quarterback and friend Bryson Beirne said Foles transformed into both a better leader and teammate, something that will help him handle his talented receiving corps, which figures to be one of the best in the conference. According to receivers coach Dave Nichol, Foles is “exactly what you want at that position.”
“He’s just matured a lot more,” Nichol added. “He’s good about getting on the guys when they need it and then loving them up when he needs to. You could tell he had it as a sophomore, sometimes he just didn’t know how to say it or put it or whatever. But now it’s his team.”
More than anything, Foles understands that this is his team, making him accountable for everything he does on and off the field. He said his experience has taught him that he’s both leader-by-example and leader-by-command.
“They rally around me,” Foles said. “I’ve got to be out there working my but off everyday.
“I can’t have a bad day,” he added. “That’s unacceptable. I always have to have a good day and that’s something that I understand and embrace.”
Foles showed flashes of that leadership last season, marching the Wildcats down the field for back-to-back game winning drives against Iowa and Cal early on.
But he fell short of expectations at times late in 2010. Despite putting up monster numbers, he flopped during the Alamo Bowl, inside the same dome he’d played in five times before as a high school quarterback.
The Texan threw three costly interceptions — two in the first half and one for a touchdown — and forced a handful of throws as the Wildcats were stomped 36-10 by Oklahoma State.
But Foles has put the underwhelming performance behind him, and with a solid senior season infused with more accountability he could cement himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in program history.
He’s prepared himself for the pressure that comes with being the leader of Arizona’s 2011 football team, and he’s tasted the success and failure of the past, giving him the necessary makeup to thrive as the big man on campus, according to quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
“I think it’s obvious,” Scelfo said. “I think he embraces the atmosphere but also he’s very level-headed and keeps both feet on the ground.”
Cool and collected, Foles is leaning on his growth as a leader to make his senior year his best yet.
“I’m not going to put myself out there and say it,” Foles said. “That’s just the position I’m going to be in. The thing is I’m not going to change anything. I’m just going to stay true to who I am, and that’s what I’m always going to do. That’s how I play this game.”