Eagles breakout Travis Fulgham found football in Virginia

A few years later, Fulgham would become the first Broad Run player to be selected in the NFL draft. But in that moment, on that Friday, ...



A few years later, Fulgham would become the first Broad Run player to be selected in the NFL draft. But in that moment, on that Friday, Griffis was just relieved to see that at least this new kid had some size. He was around 6-foot-3 with a solid build. It took a few more days for Griffis to realize Fulgham would do more than just make the team

“At first, he just looked the part,” Griffis said. “But in those days we were still running the [40-yard dash] in practice, and when he ran the 40, I said, ‘Umm, okay, this kid runs like a deer.’ ”

In the years since, Fulgham has used that blend of size and speed to defy the odds on his nontraditional path, slowly climbing each ladder he has encountered: first at Broad Run, then at Old Dominion and now in the NFL.

One of the league’s biggest surprises this fall, Fulgham will take the field for the Philadelphia Eagles against the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night as a certified weapon, a skilled and dangerous wideout playing a key role in the NFL.

“There’s certain people that you meet that take every setback and turn it into a comeback,” former Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said. “That’s who Travis is. He has written a phenomenal comeback story.”

Traveling toward football

Fulgham’s story began abroad; he spent most of his childhood overseas. Both of his parents were in the Foreign Service, and after they divorced, he spent time living with his mother in Jordan, Egypt, South Africa and India, according to ESPN. In high school, he joined his father, who was living in Virginia. That’s where Fulgham found football.

His first experience with the sport came at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, where he initially played basketball and soccer. He was asked to join the football team ahead of his junior year and took to the game quickly. But by the end of his junior year, he knew he would have to transfer to a bigger program if he wanted to pursue a pro career. By the end of that summer, his dad was emailing Griffis about a potential addition to the team.

Griffis told Fulgham that he would have to start at the bottom and work his way up, but the coach didn’t think the work would come so easy to the transfer. Fulgham was a starter by the time the season opener arrived, and he quickly established himself as a playmaker. With his size and speed, it was just a matter of throwing the ball up for him to go and get it.

“If you watch a high school football game, you can pick out the D-I kids,” Griffis said. “They can take over the game in a minute. And he had that ability.”

But Division I ability doesn’t always translate to Division I scholarship offers, especially when you join the recruiting cycle a few years late. By the time Fulgham arrived at Broad Run, most large schools had already extended dozens of offers and filled most of their scholarships.

Griffis told every college coach that called or visited about the overlooked, superskilled wide receiver who had come out of nowhere. As Wilder remembers it, Griffis was “adamant” when discussing Fulgham’s skill with the program’s Northern Virginia recruiter, Michael Zyskowski. Griffis knew Fulgham probably would have to walk on and that that path is a hard one, but he was confident that if the player and the team stuck with it, the rewards could be immense.

“I told every school that came through, ‘He’s going to last about two weeks, or he’s going to make it to the NFL,’ ” Griffis said.

Making the most of it

Old Dominion did not have a scholarship to offer Fulgham, but when he visited Norfolk in March of his senior year, Wilder promised his family that the staff believed in his abilities and would try to get him one as soon as possible.

It took one week into his first year for that happen. Following a transfer, Fulgham was awarded a scholarship, and he began climbing the ladder again.

After a redshirt year, he worked his way up the depth chart and earned a starting role as a sophomore. He took a step back with a disappointing junior campaign, but Monarchs wide receiver coach John Allen said Fulgham was still hungry going into his fifth season.

“He wanted to prove a point that he could get the job done,” Allen said. “He wanted to learn still. He wanted to do drills, run routes. He really, that year, put everything into being a really good football player.”

That season, Fulgham became the player his coaches always said he could be. He led Conference USA with 1,083 receiving yards and posted five 100-yard receiving games. The most notable came in the program’s shocking upset of in-state rival Virginia Tech, when he caught nine passes for 188 yards.

“He was the best player on the field that day,” Wilder said. “It was the game that put him on the map with a lot of these scouts because, as a mid-major team, it’s always about who you play against.”

And yet when it came time for pro scouts to visit Norfolk, Wilder found himself in the same position Griffis had been in a few years before: adamantly trying to convince them that this was a kid worth taking a chance on.

“I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘What are you guys looking at?’ ” Wilder said.

The Detroit Lions selected Fulgham in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. That night, Griffis got a text from Zyskowski with a screenshot of a message from five years earlier: “Two weeks or the NFL.”

A steep climb to the top

Fulgham was active for three games for Detroit last season but didn’t register a catch. In August, he was waived and claimed by the Green Bay Packers, who waived him nine days later. Philadelphia claimed him but waived him two weeks after that. He landed on the Eagles’ practice squad and was promoted to the active roster Oct. 3. The next day, his NFL carousel finally and suddenly came to a halt.

Late in the Eagles’ win against the San Francisco 49ers on “Sunday Night Football,” Fulgham introduced himself to Philadelphia fans with a game-changing 42-yard touchdown grab.

“After we broke the huddle, [quarterback] Carson [Wentz] said, ‘Get ready.’ So I knew there was a good shot he was going to throw the ball to me,” Fulgham told reporters after the game. “For me, that’s a regular play: The ball is in the air, and you see the ball and go get it.”

The following week, he proved his big play was no fluke, catching 10 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown for the injury-depleted Eagles in a loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Less than a month after his third stint on the waiver wire, Fulgham was being snatched up in fantasy leagues and his jersey was one of the top sellers in the NFL. Just as he had done in high school as a transfer and in college as a walk-on, he had climbed the ladder.

“This is a story that took time to write, obviously,” Wilder said. “He wasn’t a polished player. This is only the ninth year of his life playing football. … I think he’s still miles away from who he is going to be.”

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Newsrust: Eagles breakout Travis Fulgham found football in Virginia
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