Susquehanna Township High School football coach Joe Headen used to tell college coaches visiting on recruiting trips to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that Jared Folks was “probably one of the most underrated kids” in the state.
Folks, now a redshirt-sophomore linebacker at Temple, had eight sacks and an interception in his junior season to help lead Susquehanna to a district semifinal, but did not receive any offers from colleges that year.
That changed after a workout attended by about 10 college recruiters in Spring 2013, Headen said. Folks’ speed in the 40-yard dash impressed coaches.
“That evening, no lie, we got done with practice at like five [o’clock] and by seven o’clock the offers started rolling in,” Headen said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. … And then he came to Temple’s camp and he ran a 4.5 [40-yard dash] and by that time, it was a frantic pace. It was exciting for him, especially for a kid that worked hard for it and he deserved every offer he got.”
Three and a half years later, Folks is contributing to an Owls’ defense that ranks ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in third-down conversions allowed and 17th in total defense. He has recorded 26 tackles, intercepted one pass and started each of the last four games.
Folks made a career-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble in the Owls’ 26-25 win on Saturday to help the defense shut out Central Florida for more than 42 minutes.
Headen moved Folks around the field during his sophomore season, playing him at defensive line, linebacker and sometimes at defensive back. Between his junior and senior seasons, Folks had a growth spurt and “his athletic ability sort of all came together,” Headen said.
He received offers from the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and visited Connecticut before committing to Temple on July 1, 2013. It took more than three years for him to play in his first regular season game when he recorded two tackles in the team’s win against Stony Brook University on Sept. 10.
Folks redshirted his freshman season in 2014 and injured his shoulder about two weeks before the Owls’ season-opener against Penn State on Sept. 5, 2015, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery.
He called the experience “devastating,” but used it to prepare for this season. Folks has put on more than 20 pounds since coming to Temple and learned from the veterans on the defense, like one of his high school teammates, senior defensive lineman Averee Robinson.
“Averee definitely has been a big motivator for me,” Folks said. “Just staying in my ear, making sure I’m doing what I have to do. And [senior linebacker] Jarred Alwan, he’s like a big brother to me. We’re like family, and I trust him and he trusts me. It’s just like blood couldn’t make us closer. He’s really been a big help for me, especially on the mental part, just knowing what I got to do and having confidence.”
Robinson, who hosted Folks on his official visit in January 2014, remembers having to “get mad and start going hard” against Folks in practice in high school, even though Folks hadn’t had his growth spurt yet.
“Him and Averee would have battles,” Headen said. “I mean every day at practice, and you know when he was young like his freshman year, sophomore year, Averee would just keep pummeling him and he would just come back for more. But I think it made him a better player and it really helped Averee get to where he needed to be.”
“For somebody to be able to do that at that young of an age, and like once he hit his growth spurt, I knew that he was going to be something special,” Robinson said.
During his first game against Stony Brook, the speed of the game was fast, Folks said, but defensive coordinator Phil Snow told him to treat it “like practice, except they’ve got different colored jerseys on.”
He got his first career start two weeks later against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at Lincoln Financial Field, where he recorded three tackles. He had an interception in the team’s win against Southern Methodist on Oct. 1 and recorded five tackles against Memphis on Oct. 6.
“This is like his first year really playing, getting some experience under his belt. … He’s doing well,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick said. “He’s still got some progress to make, still some plays out there that he can make, but with time and experience he’ll get that down.”
Coach Matt Rhule scheduled a meeting last Tuesday night with some of the young linebackers on his team like Folks, freshmen Shaun Bradley and William Kwenkeu and redshirt-freshmen Jeremiah Atoki and Chapelle Russell to show them a game from the 2013 season.
In a conference matchup against Central Florida, then-ranked No. 17 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, the Owls had a seven-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Knights’ quarterback rolled to his left to throw a 30-yard pass downfield to a receiver who made a one-handed catch in the end zone for the game-tying score. The Knights eventually won the game on a last-second field goal.
Rhule was upset with then-redshirt-freshman linebacker Avery Williams, who missed a sack and “just stopped.”
“I just want guys like Chapelle and Bradley and Kwenkeu and Atoki and Folks to realize, like, when you go out there as a redshirt-freshman or redshirt-sophomore, you’re going to make mistakes,” Rhule said. “There’s going to be times like you feel like you let everybody down, but you just keep improving.”
The young defense held Memphis’ Top 10 offense to two touchdowns and two field goals, but got hurt by big plays. On redshirt-junior running back Doroland Dorceus’ 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Folks had a chance to make a play to stop the run for a short gain, but missed the tackle.
“Folks has had some really good moments, he’s picked some passes off, he’s done some really good things,” Rhule said. “Just a couple plays here and there that we need him to improve upon, like that one touchdown, that can get him to the next level. Because I think that Jared has a chance to be an all-conference type player.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.