In high school, Nelson Agholor was the guy no one ever had to worry about.
It wasn't just that Agholor was a five-star recruit at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Fla., that he played three positions for coach Dominick Ciao, that he had his pick of collegiate powerhouses and finally settled on Southern California.
It wasn't just that Agholor did good things on the football field - which pretty much any Division I prospect at any high school does. It was that he didn't bother discussing the bad things.
"In all my conversations with him, he never said a negative thing about anything," Ciao said in a phone interview last month. "He just says, 'Got to get better. Got to make the play. It's that simple.' From my perspective, he's a tremendous young man, and he'll weather the storm and rise to the top."
That prediction from his old coach still seems a long way from coming true. Whether it's from his mental struggles or sheer physical shortcomings, Agholor has for good or ill become the most noticeable skill-position player on the Eagles' offense.
Everyone watches what he does on every play. Everyone wonders whether he'll mess up again, and when. Yet during these last few weeks, when the Eagles' season has been fading away, Agholor has regained some equilibrium in his play and in his future with the team. He's hardly a star. He still hasn't justified his first-round selection in the 2015 draft, and he might never. But he's not a completely lost cause, either, and from where he was when Ciao called back to sing his praises, that's no small thing.
Ciao was standing up for his former player at the lowest point of Agholor's season. It was Nov. 22, two days after the Eagles had lost to the Seahawks and Agholor had become an object of easy ridicule. He had cost them a touchdown with an illegal-formation penalty and cost them a long pass play with a costly drop, and he had bared his tortured soul in the locker room afterward, confessing that he had lost confidence and was racked with self-doubt. Eagles coach Doug Pederson sat him down for the subsequent game, and it was fair to wonder whether the benching would clear Agholor's head or send him into a spiral from which his career might not recover.
Over the month since that ugly afternoon at Seattle, Agholor had done nothing spectacular until his 40-yard touchdown catch Thursday night against the Giants, a quick second-quarter strike from Carson Wentz that ended up being the difference in a 24-19 Eagles victory, his first TD reception since Week 1 against the Browns. It was a play that made manifest the reasons that the Eagles' coaching staff refuses to give up on him: He ran a terrific corner route, shaking loose of Giants rookie cornerback Eli Apple and coasting into the end zone when Wentz hit him in stride.
"I couldn't be happier with how Nelson has responded," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, "just with a mental toughness and positive attitude."
Later, he added a circus catch along the sideline for 7 yards, a gain that made what might have been a challenging Caleb Sturgis field-goal attempt a more manageable 41-yarder. If those two plays had been the sum total of his night, every Eagles fan would have left Lincoln Financial Field happy and free of the frustration that Agholor so often has stoked. But sure enough, the sweet of those positive moments was cut with the sour of another drop, an easy slant pass from Wentz similar to the one that Agholor let slide through his arms in Seattle.
Maybe this is the player Agholor will always be, always threatening to undermine the trust that people dare to put in him. For now, though, he has shown enough to salvage his career here.
When Pederson made him watch that Monday night game against the Packers on Nov. 28, it was a risky move. How would Agholor respond? Would the Eagles get anything out of him again? Since, he has remained the same diligent worker. He has retained the respect of his teammates and coaches for that reason, and if the Eagles can acquire a better or more accomplished wide receiver during the offseason, then the notion of Agholor as the team's third or fourth wideout becomes a more palatable scenario. The point is, he's not useless. He's earned the right to have the Eagles not give up on him.
That isn't much, of course. But given where Nelson Agholor once was, given that everyone was worrying about him - no one more than the man himself - it has to feel like a miracle.