Sam Donnellon: Eagles' seventh-round pick Fokou easy to root for

STORIES ABOUND about smart guys purposefully dumbed down by the college athletic experience. Former Ohio State standout running back Robert Smith left the team in 1991 after charging that his coaches discouraged his pursuit of pre-med. He was needed on the field, not the classroom.

Moise Fokou was lucky. No big school wanted him out of high school. Truth be told, no midmajor school did, either. He was a good high school athlete with decent grades, a converted soccer player, an immigrant from Cameroon.

"I had some looks," he said, "and I did pretty well my senior season. But the offers weren't as great as I thought."

He was going to college the way most people do.

He was going to take out a loan.

Nothing lucky about that. But here's what is:

He was going to make it count for something.

"I love the game, enjoy playing it," the Eagles' seventh-round draft pick was saying as rookie camp continued yesterday. "But coming from my family, from my background, they always harped on education. That's something that had to come first."

It's why Fokou was at the Bullis School, a small prep school in Potomac, Md. After ditching soccer, he starred there in basketball and as a football linebacker, was named conference most valuable player after his senior season. By then, though, the scholarship window had long closed, and the Fokous did all the normal college applicant things, filling out the FAFSA, applying for the guaranteed student loans, finding a school that fit him, that would allow him to play football and major in electrical engineering.

Fokou went to Frostburg State, a Division III school near the West Virginia border of Maryland. As an electrical engineering major.

"I kind of picked that because I used to like to mess around with electrical things when I was younger, taking radios apart and trying to fix things," he said. "I broke a lot of things in the process."

He's a likable sort, an easy guy to root for, the way those who earn their success and recognition by small increments often are. Fokou went to Frostburg for a season, recorded 70 tackles in 10 games - then went and got another student loan so he could transfer to Maryland.

He called himself "a recruited walk-on" but here's how that worked for him. Some assistant coaches knew of him and told him he would have a chance. A chance. Ralph Friedgen, the Maryland coach, "Didn't really know who I was."

Ineligible for one season, Fokou got Friedgen's attention as a scout-team player. By 2007, Fokou was Maryland's strong-side linebacker. He started the last 26 games of his college career, despite undergoing offseason shoulder surgery between his junior and senior seasons. Last fall he led the Terps with five sacks and a team-high 12 tackles for a loss.

He was awarded a scholarship in the summer of 2006, with one strong recommendation: Stay eligible. "I buckled down the next semester, got a 3.1, took summer classes," he said.

Fokou also decided, reluctantly, to switch his major to criminal justice.

"We had one guy on our team, Sam Hollenbach, who was doing engineering and playing quarterback," he said of the former Pennridge High star and Redskins backup. "He was a bright kid. I saw the toll it took on him and I was like, 'Hold on.' I'm already behind in classes. Now the football, a social life . . . Just to be sane, I switched to criminal justice.

"A bit of a copout, I know. But it got me here."

Moise Fokou's athleticism, his downfield aggressiveness give him an edge to make the Eagles this summer, a chance to, as Fokou said yesterday, "continue the dream."

What may give him an edge is that incremental journey of his. He will begin to pay back almost $30,000 in college loans next month. He already knows how hard it is to get on somebody's map.

And how easy it is to fall off it.

"You know what? I'm here,'' he said. "I love playing the game. I'm going to keep playing it until it's not fun anymore. And I think that's going to be a very long time." *

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