Ten months before he became a household name, a Super Bowl MVP, a TV talk-show circuit regular, and a New York Times bestselling author, quarterback Nick Foles walked into Esperanza Academy Charter School in a rough-and-tumble section of north Philadelphia and felt the Holy Spirit tugging at his heart.
It was April 2017, and the ink had barely dried on his two-year, $11 million free agent contract to return to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012 and traded him in March 2015. Now that he was back, he wanted to make a greater spiritual impact on the city.
Foles and nine teammates co-led eight-week Huddles for students and players in Philadelphia, sharing how their weekly Bible study during their season strengthens their bond on the field and in their relationships with Jesus Christ.
So Foles and a group of Christian teammates partnered with Philadelphia Metro FCA Multi-Area Director Kasey Dougherty to launch two eight-week Huddles for more than 100 8th through 12th graders in north and south Philly. Dougherty was thrilled. She originally projected it would take five years to start the Huddles. But God’s sovereignty and the evangelistic heart of the Eagles’ players accelerated her timetable by about, oh, four-and-a-half years.
“I had a plan,” she admits, laughing. “But it wasn’t God’s plan.”
As the Huddles began, Foles quickly noticed the FCA staff at the north Philly site collected the FCA study Bibles at the end of each meeting. Dougherty’s startup budget couldn’t cover the cost of a replacement Bible if a student took one home but didn’t return it the following week. So Foles called an audible.
“I want to make sure each kid walks away with a Bible,” he told Dougherty, “even if they just show up once.”
Thanks in large part to Foles, every student at both Huddles received copies of God’s Word.
Joy of a lifetime
Ten months later, on February 4, 2018, Foles was awash in confetti atop the Super Bowl LII victory podium at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, capping one of the most improbable stories in NFL history. In 2013, he reached the Pro Bowl after setting a league record with a 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but by July 2016, he nearly quit the game after enduring a surprising trade from Philadelphia and a miserable season with the St. Louis Rams in 2015.
After lots of prayer and conversations with his wife, Tori—who has inspired him through her own courageous battle with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome since 2013—Foles felt God’s Spirit leading him back to football. He reunited with Andy Reid, the coach who drafted him, in Kansas City in 2016, and his love of football returned. The biggest difference? He started finding his true identity in Christ.
“I didn’t have to accomplish anything more on the football field to find fulfillment, and that’s a really special, beautiful thing when you can get to that point,” Foles says.
Still, he accomplished plenty. After taking over for Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, Foles went on an eight-week run for the ages. During Super Bowl LII, he matched future Hall of Famer Tom Brady blow for blow and finished with 373 yards, three touchdown passes, and a trick-play scoring catch known as “the Philly Special” that will live forever in Eagles lore—all to bring the first Lombardi Trophy to a longsuffering city where the Rocky underdog ethos runs deep.
“It’s such a big, crazy accomplishment by earth’s standards,” Foles says. “It’s pretty wild to be on this platform and just share what God has done in my life.”
Offseason trade rumors swirled around Foles following the championship, but ultimately, the Eagles kept their Super Bowl star and reworked his two-year contract. From both the field and the bench, he approaches the game with grace and humility.
“As an athlete and a competitor, you obviously want be out there helping your teammates win,” Foles says. “But at the end of the day, Carson Wentz wants to be out there too. Although he suffered an injury, he’s the team's quarterback and he’s the one whom they drafted. Now that he’s healthy, it’s my job to help him in any way possible and be there to support him.”
‘Keep growing … keep moving’
As a Super Bowl MVP, Foles knows he has a unique opportunity to reach others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. His NFL platform is one of the main reasons he didn’t retire in 2016. Playing football doesn’t define him, but he sees it as a gift and talent to be used wisely for his heavenly Master (Matthew 25:14-30).
“It’s pretty wild to be on this platform and just share what God has done in my life.”
-Nick FolesFoles’ remembers feeling lost as a young adult. He grew up going to church every week in Austin, Texas, but without experiencing salvation. He recalls feeling isolated, helpless and crying out to the Lord in faith and repentance in a parking garage near Michigan State’s campus during his freshman year. From there, his faith grew as he studied God’s Word and surrounded himself with older believers who mentored him.
Now, Foles wants to be a mentor for others. He’s taking online seminary classes during the offseason to become, perhaps, a youth pastor after football. He and Tori are donating all of their proceeds from his recently released memoir, Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds, to various charities. Part of those funds helped 70 kids from inner-city Philadelphia attend FCA’s annual sports camp at Kutztown (Pa.) University last June.
For Foles, his success has created a unique spiritual awareness and urgency inside him.
“I want to keep doing great things for the kingdom, but I also want to keep growing as a person,” he says. “This is actually a tough situation to be in—in the sense that you achieve something so great that complacency is right there. You can feel it at times, and you don’t want that to set in. You don’t want to become stagnant, so I just continue to keep moving, growing and staying in the Word.”
Photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles And FCA Philly