Fokou, a native of Cameroon and a two-year starter at Maryland, takes another step down that road today when he participates in the Terps' annual pro day with 23 teammates in College Park.
Unlike wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is trying to improve his position as a prospective first-round draft pick, Fokou, 23, is simply trying to impress a team enough to get drafted. A former walk-on at Maryland, Fokou offers an intriguing blend of athleticism, explosiveness and versatility.
"I think he'll be drafted," Terps strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said. "If not, he'll be a real strong preferred free agent."
This is the 17th pro day that Galt has run at Maryland for NFL scouts and executives. He expects representatives from at least 25 teams to attend. (The four-hour event is closed to the public.)
He also expects the Terps to deliver a strong performance in workouts that include a 225-pound bench press, the 40-yard dash and agility drills.
Heyward-Bey, who ran the 40 in 4.3 seconds at the scouting combine last month, could become the Terps' first first-round draft pick since Vernon Davis in 2006. Cornerback Kevin Barnes is a potential first-day pick, and the rest of the Terps probably will be either second-day selections or free agents.
But Fokou's path to the NFL sets him apart from the crowd. He came to the United States with his family in 1992 when he was 6. He grew up in Rockville, starred at Bullis in Potomac and attended Division III Frostburg State in 2004. A year later, he transferred to Maryland, walked on to the football team and earned a scholarship.
"I took the hard road to where I am," Fokou said with pride.
He won a scholarship with his play on the scout team in 2005 while sitting out a mandatory transfer season. In 2006, Fokou played behind Erin Henderson at weak-side linebacker. A year later, he moved to the strong side and started 25 of his next 26 games there, carving out a reputation as a sure tackler with quick feet and explosiveness. An undersized linebacker, Fokou is known for his intensity.
"I was confident I could play in a D-I program," he said. "Maryland just happened to be the one I chose."
Still, he was gratified that others recognized his progress and potential. After his senior year, he was invited to play in the Senior Bowl, the most prestigious of the postseason all-star games, and then to the combine in Indianapolis.
"You kind of put your mind to it and it's a goal, a dream," Fokou said. "When I would tell people, it seemed kind of far-fetched. As the same time, this is what I wanted to do. I gave it my all, I stayed focused, and slowly but surely I kept seeing progress. At the time, I thought it was a mini-miracle."
Last season, Fokou was the only defender in the Atlantic Coast Conference with more than 75 tackles (77) and five sacks. He also had 12 tackles for losses. But just as important to the NFL, perhaps, was that he led the Terps in special teams tackles the past two years.
At 6 feet 1 and 233 pounds, Fokou is projected as a weak-side linebacker in the NFL. His best chance to contribute right away will be on special teams.
"That's something I've been doing my whole collegiate career," he said. "I have no problem with that."