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Ravens' losses have become Folau's gain World League tackle gets chance to be a backup

Just eight months ago, Spencer Folau was an unemployed football player working for his father's landscaping business in Redwood City, Calif.

Now he's playing football, nonstop.

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Folau will be one of two Ravens playing for the Rhein Fire on Sunday against the Barcelona Dragons in the World Bowl, the championship game of the NFL-sponsored World League.

The offensive tackle will return home Wednesday and have just 13 days off before he's due in Baltimore on July 8 to start pre-training camp drills with the young players for his second season of the year.

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With the Ravens, Folau will be suddenly thrust into a backup tackle position because of the losses the team has suffered in the off-season.

Nobody is more surprised than Folau at this turn of events.

"I was pretty much clueless," Folau said on the phone from Barcelona, where his team is preparing for the World Bowl.

"I knew Tony Jones was gone [to the Denver Broncos] and I knew that Steve Everitt had signed [with the Philadelphia Eagles], but I didn't know about Herm," he said.

The team's top backup tackle, Herman Arvie, was forced to retire with a neck injury.

That vaulted Folau, an undrafted free agent out of Idaho, an NCAA Division I-AA school, into a shot at the backup tackle position -- even though he has yet to play a down in the NFL.

Kirk Ferentz, who has the title of assistant head coach-offense and serves as the offensive line coach, recently gave Folau, 24, the word about his new status.

"I wanted to make sure he felt a sense of urgency," Ferentz said. "The clock is ticking on all of us. I'm confident he will come in here and work hard. You never know how quickly he's going to progress."

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The Ravens are without four of their top seven offensive linemen from last year: Jones, Everitt, Arvie and Wally Williams, who could miss at least the first half of the season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon. The three remaining are starting tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown and guard Jeff Blackshear.

Although Ferentz said it's possible the Ravens will sign a veteran center or tackle, he's willing to look at Quentin Neujahr as his starting center and Folau as the top backup tackle.

"It was pretty exciting when the coach called and said they're counting on me this year," said Folau, adding that the Ravens want him to lose 5 pounds to get to 305.

Folau also is happy he took the Ravens' suggestion and played in the World League -- a spring league the NFL sponsors in Europe -- to get more experience.

Waived by the Ravens at the end of training camp last year, Folau was supposed to be ticketed for the practice squad because the Ravens thought he had potential. Practice squad players can practice but can't play in games unless they're added to the 53-man active roster.

But the Ravens were so strapped for cash last year that they couldn't afford a practice squad at the start of the season, and Folau found himself without a team.

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"He's a real good athlete. No question we were scared to death that somebody was going to take him," Ferentz said.

When Folau wasn't claimed by another team, he went home and waited. On Oct. 29, the Ravens signed him to the practice squad.

At the end of the year, they suggested that Folau and tight end A. J. Ofodile, who was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and then was signed to the Ravens' practice squad, join the Rhein team in the World League.

Ofodile has a chance to make the Ravens behind Brian Kinchen and Eric Green, assuming that Green eventually signs.

The Rhein offensive line has given up just one sack all year -- Folau hasn't given up one while playing the critical left tackle spot -- and helped the team go 7-3 and qualify for the World Bowl against Barcelona. The Fire split with the Dragons during the regular season.

"It's been a great experience," Folau said.

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His parents got a chance to visit him, and they went to Amsterdam, but then international travel is nothing new to the family.

He's a native of Tonga, an island nation in the South Pacific. His parents met when his mother, who's from Wyoming, was a nurse in the Peace Corps.

Ferentz isn't worried about Folau playing two seasons back-to-back.

"We'll keep an eye on him," Ferentz said. "We're not going to beat him into the ground.

Folau knows his second season will be a challenge, but he's looking forward to it.

"I've tried not to let it get to me. I knew it was going to be a long year. I've got to fight through it," Folau said.

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Pub Date: 6/20/97


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