Terps LB Fokou Took Long Road to College Park

Cameroon native one of best linebackers in ACC

Moise Fokou was born in Cameroon, hardly a hotbed of football talent. He began his college career at Frostburg State, which is not to be confused with Florida State as a grooming ground for the NFL.

Then he came to the University of Maryland, taking out a loan to pay for tuition before gaining a place on the scout team as a walk-on.

From those roots, Fokou grew into one of the best linebackers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior leads Maryland in sacks, ranks third in tackles and is a force on special teams.

"He has had a phenomenal year for us," said coach Ralph Friedgen, whose Terrapins can become bowl-eligible with a victory over North Carolina State on Saturday.

After coming to the United States from the central African nation of Cameroon at age 5, Fokou played another brand of football as a youth.

"I started out with soccer because they have a very good soccer team in Cameroon," he recalled Tuesday. "I had some friends in my neighborhood who said, 'Moise, you've got to come out and play football with us.' I was always a physical kid, always running and getting into trouble, and then I found a way to hit someone and get away with it. I found a love for the game, liked the physical aspect of it, and from then it just took off."

Well, not exactly. Fokou was not heavily recruited after earning two letters at The Bullis School in Potomac, so he played one season at Frostburg (Md.) State before coming to College Park. As a member of the Maryland scout team, he made an immediate impression.

"As soon as I met him, I could tell he was a hard worker, a real aggressive kind of guy. He would go out there and try to beat you with his intensity," Terps wide receiver Danny Oquendo said. "I couldn't believe then that he wasn't a scholarship player. But I knew it just a matter of time, because they wouldn't want to lose him."

Although Friedgen didn't know Fokou's name, it didn't take long for the coach to realize he was a darn good football player.

"We didn't recruit him; he wasn't even on our radar screen," Friedgen said. "Then I'm seeing this guy on the scout team run people down all over the place. I'm saying, 'Who the heck is this guy?' I found out his background, brought him in, said I was impressed."

Fokou was handed a scholarship, and after sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, he played in all 13 games in 2006 before starting every game last year. Now he's part of a defense that last week handed Wake Forest its first shutout since 1998.

The Terrapins held the Demon Deacons to 73 yards rushing and sacked Riley Skinner four times in limiting him to a meager 127 yards through the air. In the process, Fokou and Maryland made a distinct impression on North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson.

"If you do just one thing really well, they can focus on that. And so we've got to go into the game with a good mentality, a tough mentality," Wilson said. "They're going to be a real good defense, experienced defense, so we're going to have to take what we can get."

If Fokou has his way, that won't be much. He's had seven tackles in each of his last two games, including his fourth sack -- twice his total of a year ago.

"He's gotten better every year since he's got here, not only on defense but on special teams," Friedgen said. "Anytime he is on the field, he gives 110 percent. And he's that way off the field, too. I think he has a chance to be very successful in life."

Fokou has already come a long way, considering he started in Cameroon and had a short stopover at Frostburg State before landing at Maryland as a walk-on.

"I'm surprised and happy. It's been a successful journey," he said. "I'm glad of the progress I've made since I've been here. It's a good story, I guess, coming from Division-III to making an impact and starting here. I'm glad things worked out."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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