Football is a game of discipline, competition, skill and rivalries. But it is also a game of roots. Where a player started is arguably just as important as where they are going. Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, was the origin story for many star football players in the NFL including Drew Brees, Sam Ehlinger, Nick Foles and Justin Tucker, as well as Clemson University quarterback Cade Klubnik. Westlake football is an NFL factory.
From Brees and Foles going head to head in the NFL playoffs to later having both Foles and Ehlinger play on the same NFL team, the bonds of Westlake have evidently extended beyond their high school years. How many other schools can claim three NFL players who have won a Super Bowl, as well as a rising star surpassing his predecessors' records? Let's take a look at some of the star players who found their start on the turf for the Chaparrals.
Brees graduated from Westlake in 1997. During his time as QB1 in high school, he earned all-state honors after completing 3,529 passing yards -- best in Class 5A by more than 1,000 yards. He also led an undefeated Westlake team to the 5A Division II state title in 1996 in his senior season.
Following his days as a Westlake Chaparral, Brees attended Purdue, where he continued to surpass expectations. He rewrote two NCAA records, 13 Big Ten Conference records and 19 Purdue records.
"But there was more to Brees than gaudy statistics," the purduesports.com website reads. "He was the ultimate student-athlete, majoring in industrial management, and was extremely generous with his time in the community. Among his honors, certainly the most fitting was the inaugural Socrates Award, presented in January of 2000, recognizing the nation's finest athlete in terms of academics, athletics and community service."
Brees' accomplishments in college got him drafted by San Diego in the second round in 2001, and he spent five seasons with the Chargers before signing with the New Orleans Saints.
During his time with the Saints, Brees was named Super Bowl MVP after he led the Saints to their first NFL title. Brees has transcended previous records and currently holds the record for most career passing yards with 80,358, most career completions and highest percentage of completions at 67.7%, as well as several others.
Brees and Foles faced off in the Super Bowl in 2019, making history as the first time two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks from the same high school competed in a playoff.
"We're one of two schools ever to have two quarterbacks win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles and Drew Brees," Westlake director of athletics and head coach Callan Nokes said. "The other school was the Manning brothers -- Eli and Payton -- both went to the same school. But that's the only two times that's ever happened in history."
Brees is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in history. After 20 years of dedicated performance, Brees retired from the Saints following the 2020 season, making him eligible for the Hall of Fame as early as 2026.
Foles graduated in 2007 from Westlake, where he was the starting quarterback, breaking several school records previously held by Brees. After leading his high school football team to the 5A state title game in 2006, his team lost to Southlake Carroll led by coach Todd Dodge, who would later become the head coach at Westlake.
"He played that senior year, a whole lot of it, with a torn rotator cuff, or partially torn rotator cuff," Dodge said, according to NBC.
During his professional career, Foles played for various NFL teams such as Philadelphia Eagles (2012-14 and 2017-18), Los Angeles Rams (2015), Kansas City Chiefs (2016) and Chicago Bears (2020-21) before ending up with his current team, the Indianapolis Colts.
Foles was named MVP of Super Bowl LII in 2018 after he led the Eagles over Tom Brady's Patriots in Minneapolis with a score of 41-33 in a shocking upset.
"When he won the Super Bowl, he didn't just win the Super Bowl," wrote Dave Mangels of Bleeding Green Nation. "He beat the top team of his era, with the top coach of his era, and with the top QB of his era, who he bested. It would be one thing to 'simply' be the QB on the Super Bowl winning Eagles, which again is plenty. But he was the MVP of the game, and it was wholly deserved."
After his time with the Eagles, Foles was recruited by then-Colts head coach Frank Reich, who was his offensive coordinator when he won the Super Bowl for Philadelphia. Foles was originally the backup for veteran Matt Ryan but was replaced by rookie Sam Ehlinger in October 2022.
"I can't say enough about how great of a man Nick [Foles] is," Ehlinger said, according to WishTV. "We went to the same high school so we have a great connection, and our relationship hasn't changed one bit. We're still messing around having a good time. The way that he's handled it, I think that there's no person that could have handled it any better than he has."
Foles will likely be on the inactive list for the Colts moving forward. But given the constant shifts in direction for the Colts, who knows what this veteran's future holds?
"It's amazing to think we have two quarterbacks from the same high school on the same team," Nokes said. "I don't know if that's ever happened before in the history of the NFL. If it has, I know it's extremely rare."
Ehlinger graduated in 2017 from Westlake, where he broke several school records previously held by Brees and Foles. By the time he graduated, he was the school's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, according to CBSSports. He was also named the MaxPreps National Junior of the Year.
As a senior, the 6-foot-2 quarterback was ranked by ESPN as the sixth-best player in Texas. Ehlinger was considered to be a dual quarterback, balancing both superior accuracy as well as out-of-pocket mobility.
Ehlinger was a force to be reckoned with. His ability to both throw flawless passes while also confidently executing his own running plays was a real indicator of his future success. He was a playmaker for the Chaparrals and well respected by fans, teammates and coaches.
"[Ehlinger] was amazing," Nokes said. "He was an amazing kid. He's still an amazing young man. So dedicated. All he did was work harder than everyone else. He was a great leader on the team. Everybody looked up to him. Everybody respected him, so it was a terrific experience."
The quarterback didn't travel far for college, as he quickly traded the red and blue for burnt orange after committing to the University of Texas in Austin. While playing for the Longhorns, Ehlinger found himself starting as a freshman and ended up starting for 43 out of 46 games during his time with the Longhorns.
"[Ehlinger] guided Texas to 27 wins as the starting quarterback, the fourth-most in school history ... the seventh two-time team captain (2019-20) in Texas history," the Longhorns' website reads. "Ranked first or second among Big 12 quarterbacks in passing efficiency, passing touchdowns, passing yards per completion, points responsible for, points responsible for per game and total offense."
After signing with the Colts, Ehlinger performed well during preseason and was named as Matt Ryan's backup over fellow Westlake alumni Foles. However, after the veteran struggled to ignite the team, Ehlinger was given the opportunity to start in late October and showed promise in his first two games.
In another twist in direction from the Colts, Reich was fired and former Colts center Jeff Saturday was hired as interim coach -- and he undid Reich's decision by reinstating Ryan as starter, according to NFL.com. Reportedly both Ryan and Ehlinger have handled the shifts with class and professionalism.
"Everyone talks about how incredible his leadership ability is," Ehlinger said to the IndyStar. "I think true leaders are revealed in uncertain and hard times. It would have been very easy for him to sit there and say nothing, especially given the circumstances."
It was only this past week that Saturday hopped onto the Ehlinger bandwagon following Foles' season-ending injury this past week when he started against the New York Giants. Ehlinger is expected to play as starter for the Colts against the Texans on Sunday, according to NBCSports. Ehlinger may not have played the best in his first season on the field, but this rookie still has a lot of room for growth in the coming years.
"I hope [Ehlinger] has a long and successful career," Nokes said. "He's still early in his career."
With an already notable track record, Klubnik -- class of 2022 -- has shown he is ready to compete in the big leagues. Klubnik avenged the loss suffered during Foles' reign as he succeeded in leading his team to a state title against none other than Southlake Carroll -- the same team that bested Westlake all those years ago. This resulted in back-to-back state titles for the Chaps.
Although it's obvious that Brees, Foles and Ehlinger were successful players throughout their high school days, none of them won multiple state titles as Klubnik did, making him arguably the best quarterback who walked the halls of Westlake.
"[He was the] same as Sam -- all the same qualities -- amazing, hard worker, tremendous leader," Nokes said. "Did everything right and had the total respect of his teammates and coaches at all times."
After signing with Clemson, Klubnik was initially QB2 behind DJ Uiagalelei but has since emerged as the Tigers' QB1 of the future. However, the true freshman's struggle during the recent Orange Bowl -- where he failed in his attempt to outrun an SEC defense -- shows that he still has much to learn. His decision-making is bound to improve as his experience matures and he comes to terms with the competitiveness of these college teams.
"He is such a wonderful young man, and been such a blessing to coach," said Dodge, who was the head coach during Klubnik's high school career. "To be able to have your quarterback, the face of your program, that refuses to have a bad day, that's just the kind of person he is. He is very special to me, all of my quarterbacks have been, and Cade goes right in there with him."
Tucker graduated in 2008 from Westlake, where he was ranked as the third-best place-kicker in the nation by ESPNU, according to Texas Sports. He attributes part of his football story to none other than Brees' stepmom, who helped convince his mom to let him play -- showing once again how intertwined the Westlake community is, according to ESPN.
Tucker and Ehlinger share not only a high school alma mater but also a college one, as Tucker graduated from UT Austin in 2011.
Following college with a degree in music, he committed to the Baltimore Ravens, where he has since earned a Super Bowl title. Tucker is the most accurate kicker and holds the record for the longest field goal in NFL history at 66 yards.
"To me, in those 1.3 seconds lies a sort of cathartic beauty," Tucker said, according to ESPN. "Almost paradoxically, I become so engaged, so focused that I lose myself in that moment, much like a musician who performs a piece that he has studied and rehearsed time and time again."
Pictures of the Westlake football alumni are posted all around the stadium of Westlake for everyone to see.
"We loved having them," Nokes said in a recent interview with FanBuzz. "They're awesome, all of them were absolutely wonderful people, in addition to being great great football players ... You kind of stick your chest out with pride that they play here, and they just added to the legacy the long history of the success of, not only the football team, but the athletic program at Westlake that we've enjoyed for a really long time."
Each one of these players is interestingly enough connected to one another. Whether it's avenging a past state championship, playing on the same team, having the same college alma mater, or a family member of alumni giving a football legend his start, these players truly embody the ideology of "Once a Chap. Always a Chap."
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