No, he’s actually playing inside linebacker, where he’s more drastically undersized. And yet the transfer from equally diminutive Frostburg State, who is outweighed by an average of about 20 pounds by his fellow Terps linebackers, is scrapping for a starter’s position at the ‘WILL’ – weak inside linebacker – spot.
As of right now, 242-pound sophomore Erin Henderson appears to be Option 1A and Fokou 1B at WILL.
“He’s in a battle right now, and he’s gonna play a lot of football for us in a lot of different capacities,” said defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, who also coaches the middle linebackers.
Never is Fokou’s uniqueness more apparent than when the inside linebackers go through pass-rushing drills. While his bulkier contemporaries, Henderson and freshmen Alex Wujciak (235 pounds), and Chris Clinton, take the typical tack of an inside linebacker, Fokou does things a bit differently.
“[Alex] Wujciak, he runs over you. Clinton, he runs over you. And Wesley Jefferson runs over you. Fokou comes in and puts on about a thousand moves and vanishes in the night,” says head coach Ralph Friedgen.
“You can’t even touch him.”
No one laid a finger on him three years ago, either, when he was a standout at Bullis Prep hoping for some Division I interest.
“After high school, things didn’t really go my way, so I just wanted to go to a school that I could transfer out of really easily,” says Fokou, who averaged almost eight tackles per game for Division III Frostburg as a freshman.
“Going into Frostburg,” he says, “I knew I was going to get out of Frostburg.”
What he didn’t expect, though, was such immediate success upon his arrival in College Park. He constantly had the coaching staff’s attention last year while playing on the scout team. Still, he was paying his own way, trying to earn a scholarship, and that was anything but guaranteed.
“Coming in, it was eye-opening, a lot of guys [who are] a lot bigger and stronger. After I started to play with them, I stepped up my game, and I want to step into a starting role and help the team any way I can,” says Fokou, who hopes to become an electrical engineer.
Despite Maryland’s recent success with walk-ons such as Madieu Williams, now a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, and current starting linebacker David Holloway, it’s not easy to go from Division III to a full-ride in the ACC.
“That was my goal. I can’t say I’m on it yet, but you’d have to ask the big man [Friedgen] about that. But I’m working toward that goal.”
Friedgen said last week Fokou is all but assured of going on scholarship once the school year starts. He brings outstanding speed and agility to a position typified by bigger, more powerful players who aren’t as quick as Fokou.
“He’s a real exciting player. He’s fun to watch. He’s just flying around, throwing his body everywhere,” Henderson says. “He plays with a lot of reckless abandon, and that’s a good thing, especially when you’re playing at 215, 220 pounds. If you don’t have the size, you have to sometimes beat them with quickness and beat them with speed.”
But none of that would be enough if had a tendency to shy from contact. That’s not the case, though. His eyes light up when he talks about the hardest he’s ever hit someone, in high school.
“His helmet flew off,” he says, comparing the rush of a jarring hit to what a gladiator must have felt like.
“It's like you're on top of the world or something ... I’ve been playing linebacker all my life and I like to hit.”
Fokou spent much of his free time last year with fellow newcomer Rick Costa, a sophomore linebacker who transferred from Temple, studying the playbook and battling one another in the video game NCAA Football 2006. While Costa would dutifully chose Maryland to play with, Fokou would pick Virginia Tech.
Not surprisingly, Costa recalls, smiling: “He’d just be killing me with their speed.”
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