James Brady was around for the first Ifeanyi Momah transformation.
The two have been friends since they were teenagers. They went to different high schools in Long Island but the quarterback and receiver regularly trained together. As kids with little cash and big goals, they used to jump from gym to gym around the neighborhood, taking advantage of the free introductory memberships until it was time to find the next deal.
When they weren’t playing on the same night Brady would go and check out Momah’s games, and remembers the gigantic jump he took once he injected some swagger into that large frame.
“He used to be…I don’t want to say timid, but it was kind of like: ‘Just go up there and box him out! Go get it,'” said Brady.
“I remember watching him going from junior year to senior year, it was like a completely different guy. It was like, ‘Oh, he figured out how to hit’ and then it was just scary because he was so big, so fast, just flying around and kind of just figured it out. It was awesome to watch.”
Momah would go on to earn all-state honors as a wide receiver and defensive end for Elwood-John H. Glenn High School before moving onto Boston College, where he would eventually become a team captain. Brady went on to play quarterback for Georgetown before transferring to New Hampshire. He missed Chip Kelly by a couple seasons but the Wildcats were still using the coach’s offense more or less, so he learned how to operate in the grooves of a Kelly system — something that would come in handy down the road.
Momah and Brady found themselves partners once again this past year after the 6-7, 239-pound wideout was released by the Eagles during final cut-downs. The message going out the door from the coaching staff was that he looked uncomfortable and unconfident. Momah agreed.
"I just felt kind of out of place. I wasn't good in and out of my breaks, I felt slower," said Momah, who showed plenty of rust after sitting out most of his senior year at BC with an ACL injury. "Last year I felt like I wasn't pushing myself too much because I was in my own head."
So he went back to Long Island to reflect and to train. And to teach. Brady was running the All Long Island Football Academy and brought Momah in to work with the receivers, which proved beneficial not just for the kids but for the 24-year old as well.
"When you're trying to teach a seven-year old how to run, how to get out of their breaks, this and that, you have to break it down. It really helped him perfect the little things by teaching the younger kids," said Brady.
The two would put in work before or after the academy sessions. Momah focused on the finer details -- setting defenders up, using his leverage, getting in and out of cuts in different ways. Having some experience in a Kelly system, Brady had a basic understanding of what was being asked of him in Philadelphia, which helped streamline the process.
There was no specific moment where things clicked into place for Momah, he said, but little by little he began to get his legs back under him. He says that four NFL teams were interested in bringing him in this offseason but he chose to return to the Eagles, and did so with a new feel about him.
"He came back a different player," said receivers coach Bob Bicknell.
While labeling him a standout would be a stretch, Momah certainly looked more the part this spring. Last year, it was pretty clear that he had no chance of making a push for a roster spot. This time around?
"Oh, I definitely think he has a chance. When we actually start playing and we're getting press coverage and playing actual games you'll be able to [judge better]," said Bicknell. "Obviously a lot of things have to happen but he's done a good job."
It remains an uphill climb for Momah. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff will likely occupy four of the receiver spots. Momah is part of a group that includes Arrelious Benn, Brad Smith, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and undrafted rookies Kadron Boone and Quron Pratt that are hoping to grab one of the final slots.
There is one thing he has going for him that his competition can't match -- size. As he did back in high school, Momah is once again learning how to use it to his advantage.
"I'm realizing my hands are huge, my body is big. It's like basketball -- just go snatch it out of the air, stay on your feet, go score some touchdowns. Simple as that," he said.
Well, maybe not that simple on this level. The odds of Momah turning into a dominant force like he was back in his Long Island high school days are small. But the swagger has been re-inserted into that large frame, and that at least gives him a chance of continuing his NFL career.
"I'm going to be on somebody's roster this year, whether it's here or somewhere else," said Momah. "I think you have to have that confidence in order to play well. Last year I was kind of just hoping. This year I'm going to make it happen."