In East Falls, atop a hill that crests after a tenth-of-a-mile slope of dirt-pocked grass and fissured white pavement blotched with black tar, rests the Abbotsford Homes housing project.
Rasheed Bailey lived at Abbotsford until he was 18, as did his best friend and classmate at Roxborough High School, Rashawn Anderson. But it wasn't until someone shot and killed Anderson outside his house on the night of Feb. 7, 2011, that Bailey recognized his own deep desire to leave Abbotsford. Until then, Bailey figured he had little choice but to accept the most forbidding moments of his mornings - descending that hill to stand at a nearby bus stop, waiting those few minutes for the Route 32 SEPTA to arrive and ferry him west on Henry Avenue to Roxborough - as a permanent price of his environment.
"It was tough, going to school every day," he was saying after the Eagles practiced Wednesday. "It was kind of a scary feeling. You're like, 'All right . . .' " and here, Bailey glanced right, then left, then right again. "You didn't know."
The story of how Bailey came to be standing in the sun at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday - a 21-year-old undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Division III Delaware Valley University competing for a spot on the Eagles roster - begins with his life at Abbotsford, and with Anderson's death. The two were so close that, when Anderson sat in the stands to watch Roxborough's football games, he wore Bailey's No. 10 jersey.
In turn, Bailey talked to his friend at length about using basketball - Anderson was Roxborough's starting point guard and leading scorer - as a boost to a better life. Anderson could go to a community college, then transfer somewhere to play ball and get his degree. They could get out, both of them. That was the dream.
Then Bailey rode the Route 32 bus to school on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, and when he arrived, students were crying in the cafeteria. Mike Stanley, Roxborough's football coach and an English teacher there, was walking the halls with counselors, pulling kids from classrooms to tell them about Anderson's murder - which reportedly sprung from a fight over a girl - and comfort them in the aftermath. "The place was a mess," Stanley said, and Bailey said that in that moment, he decided his friend's fate would not be his.
"Right then and there, I knew I had to do something with my life," he said. "I had to distance myself from everybody, and I had to go down my own path."
He could not have chosen a more disparate place from the one he'd always known. Del Val's campus sits on the pastoral western edge of Doylestown, 25 miles north of Abbotsford, in what Duke Greco, the university's head football coach, called "one of the wealthiest areas in the state. You pick Del Val for location, academics, and football. If that's what you want, you're really going to fit in great." Bailey had taken honors and Advanced Placement courses at Roxborough. Del Val gave him what he wanted, distance most of all.
"Some city kids, they go to a school like that, they're home by Thanksgiving," Stanley said. "For him, I wasn't worried about that at all."
Having been a tight end for Stanley, Bailey developed into the best wide receiver to play at Del Val. As a senior, he caught 80 passes and led all of Division III in receiving yards (1,707) and touchdown receptions (19), and he finished his career with the most receiving yards (3,138) and touchdown catches (29) in school history.
Scouts, particularly from the Eagles and the Buffalo Bills, took notice. There was scuttlebutt that Bailey, who at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds had more than enough size to be an NFL wide receiver, might be drafted. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing and interned with Best Sports Consultants, a marketing firm for professional athletes. Even before the Eagles signed Bailey after the draft, he had met Eagles running back Darren Sproles through the firm - they got haircuts together.
He had something his friend didn't live long enough to have: options.
"It made me who I am today," Bailey said. "Being home in Philly, you almost have a fixed mind-set. People think that working in the post office or another basic job, working for the government, is big-time. You take yourself out of that element, and you put yourself in a different element. Everybody's talking about being doctors, lawyers, all these realistic goals that people put aside because they're not in college.
"That mind-set is so much different, and once you take yourself out of your old environment and put yourself in a different one, you start to think about your old one and say, 'Oh, my God. I don't want to be over here.' I wanted to hear it. I wanted to be around it. I can talk better, be better, just be a better person."
The odds that he will make the Eagles are long, and he knows it. The team is likely to keep six receivers, and five of those spots would appear already filled: Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, and Miles Austin. Bailey doesn't care. He splits time between NovaCare and Matthews' house, reviewing the playbook, learning, remembering where he had been and why he has no desire to return, ever mindful of how different everything could be if he hadn't gotten out.
"I can only smile because I've made it this far," he said. "I went to a Division III school. I went to a small high school. And I'm still here with these guys who played in Senior Bowls and played in these big games and stuff like that. I'm right here with them, and I'm holding my own.
"It's a pretty good story, and I'm trying to finish it."