By the time Travis Fulgham earned his driver’s license, he had already lived in five countries.
His parents used to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which meant the family moved around regularly.
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At 6 months old, he and his mother, Celeste, arrived in Jordan. Two years later, the family relocated to Egypt. Four years after that stop, the family moved to South Africa before returning to Jordan. The family finally ended their international travel with a five-year stint in India.
They eventually moved back to the United States in 2011 while Fulgham was in high school.
All of that traveling has made Fulgham adaptable to new situations. That’s why those who are close to him weren’t surprised by his memorable Eagles debut against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
“Travis, every few years, had to move to a different country,” Celeste told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “Because he was so young, he just thought that was normal and what people do. I see him now as an adult and I see — and not to overanalyze the situation — but I see it helping him in situations that he just went through.”
Fulgham spent the first 16 years of his life constantly making new friends and learning about new cultures. He has leaned on those experiences as he has bounced around the NFL.
He has played for three different teams in less than a year. That’s three different locker rooms, three different offenses and three different position coaches to learn from.
In the grand scheme of his life, those moves pale in comparison to his youth.
“Just being around all different types of people throughout my life, I feel like I can walk into any locker room and just connect with many different people,” Fulgham told NJ Advance Media. “I feel comfortable changing situations all the time, that’s what I’ve done my whole life, so I feel like I’ve always been prepared for this NFL-crazy lifestyle.”
Even Google didn’t know who he was
The Fulgham family settled down in Ashburn, Va., upon their return to the US in 2011. Fulgham attended Massanutten Military Academy and played basketball and soccer for the school.
During a summer SAT prep course before his junior year, Fulgham was approached by the instructor who happened to also be the school’s football coach. The coach offered Fulgham the opportunity to take part in football practices to stay in shape for basketball season.
After shining during the scrimmages, Fulgham, who had never played football before, decided to join the team permanently.
“It was on a whim,” Celeste said. “He ended up making all-state that year.”
During his senior season, Fulgham moved in with his father, Alonzo. That move meant transferring to a public school, Broad Run High. At the time, he wasn’t being recruited by college programs because of his lack of football experience.
“He was on no one’s radar,” Celeste said. “There was nothing to Google because he didn’t exist statistically. … Nobody was recruiting him because there was nothing to recruit on.”
Fulgham eventually drew interest from a few schools but Old Dominion offered him the best opportunity as a walk-on. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion’s head coach during Fulgham’s college career, told the young playmaker that he was a diamond in the rough.
“You could really see the potential,” Wilder told NJ Advance Media. “He was long and athletic and he could run, but he just hadn’t played much football. We didn’t have a scholarship left, although we thought he was a scholarship talent.”
Fulgham arrived at the school a month after everyone else on the team. It took only a few days for him to earn a scholarship during his freshman spring; He dominated his teammates in practice.
“We’re doing one-on-one drills and he’s making all these circus catches,” Wilder said. “I had a scholarship open up at that time and I put him on right then.”
He wrecks Virginia Tech
In just his seventh year of playing football, Fulgham had a breakout season during his redshirt senior campaign at Old Dominion.
The wide receiver caught 63 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns during his final season with the Monarchs. His breakout performance came on national television against a heavily favored, undefeated Virginia Tech squad.
Fulgham caught nine passes for 188 yards and a touchdown in a 49-35 upset win over the No. 13 Hokies.
“Virginia Tech is definitely a day I’ll never forget,” Fulgham said. “Me and my teammates just played a hell of a game. We were clicking on all cylinders. We weren’t scared of a ranked opponent. We just played our hearts out.”
Fulgham’s performance against Virginia Tech put him on the radar of Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy.
“What stood out was the ability to make big plays on the field,” Nagy told NJ Advance Media. “His ability to just go up and win at the line of scrimmage and get down the field and win at the catch point were the things that stood out.”
Nagy eventually offered Fulgham a chance to play in the all-star game. Following Fulgham’s strong week of practice with the South team, Wilder fielded questions from NFL scouts and coaches, who were interested in drafting his former pupil.
“People just really didn’t know him,” Wilder said. “Then he practiced really well down at the Senior Bowl, and that’s when it got the ball rolling for him.”
Following a busy draft journey, the Detroit Lions selected Fulgham in the sixth round of last year’s NFL Draft.
Fulgham received the call from the Lions while he was sitting in his mother’s bedroom in Washington, D.C. After finishing his conversation with GM Bob Quinn, Fulgham wandered downstairs to celebrate with his family.
He didn’t want to ruin the surprise of his name being called on the television, so he came up with an excuse for rejoining his mom’s little get-together.
“I kind of just asked where the mac and cheese was,” Fulgham said. “Just trying to act normal.”
Fulgham’s cool demeanor only lasted for a few moments as he anxiously awaited the announcement. In a gesture of appreciation and anticipation, he hugged his mom before the news would become official.
“He came behind me, my chair, and he gave me like a bear hug,” Celeste said. “I thought it was just one of those — there’s a lot going on, and I thought it was just a ‘mommy moment,’ and I remember very clearly, reaching back and patting him and then (his name) came on the screen.”
Playmaker in prime time
Fulgham only played three games for the Lions during his rookie season. He was waived by his first NFL team in August.
Fulgham was quickly claimed off waivers by the Green Bay Packers, but he only lasted 10 days with his second franchise. After being waived by the Packers, he was once again claimed, this time by the Eagles.
“I do remember him in the draft,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “We had some good grades on him and really liked him at the time. But he was somebody that we definitely — when he became available to grab — wanted to get him in here and get him working.”
Fulgham immediately stood out during training camp this summer, despite being a late arrival. The second-year player made impressive catches on a daily basis, showing off his size, athleticism and speed.
However, the Eagles’ wide receivers group was loaded entering the cutdown deadline, and Fulgham had to settle for a practice squad spot after being waived yet again in September.
Fulgham was told Saturday that he was being promoted to the main roster after spending just three weeks on the practice squad. In his Eagles debut, Fulgham started the game against the 49ers, catching a 15-yard pass early in the game.
Celeste, who watched the game with Fulgham’s older sister, Jacqueline, said the catch calmed her nerves as she watched her son play in prime time.
“When he got the first catch — that was like breaking the ice because he didn’t have any catches last season — we were just so happy for him,” Celeste said. “I honestly would have been okay with just that. He’s got that under his belt, we can exhale and just move forward.”
Then, Fulgham made a play that would turn him into the talk of Philadelphia on Sunday night.
With the Eagles trailing the 49ers, 14-11, in the fourth quarter, quarterback Carson Wentz launched a 42-yard pass to Fulgham. The wide receiver made an athletic leaping grab, kept his balance inbounds as a defender made contact, and plunged into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
Similar to most Eagles fans watching at home, Jacqueline and Celeste erupted with screams when Fulgham caught the ball and scored.
“I don’t know how quickly my butt came out of my seat,” Celeste said. “I’m only now getting my voice back.”
Fulgham has seen his social media status surge over the past week. His name has been mentioned on local sports talk radio consistently in the days following his improbable performance in front of a national audience.
Fulgham walked into Sunday Night Football as an unknown. He walked out as a contributor.
Another adaptable moment for the well-traveled, often-overlooked playmaker.
“I’ve always been an underdog,” Fulgham said. “It’s kind of how I’ve always played. My mindset will never change, I’ll always go 100 percent on every play and try my best out there at all times.”
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