ST. LOUIS — Brian Folkerts' football career has taken him from Hazelwood Central High School to Division II Washburn University to the NFL and the Arena Football League and then back to the NFL.
Now it has taken him back home.
Folkerts was in uniform for Tuesday’s practice, the latest stop in the 25-year-old’s wild journey from Hazelwood Central to Washburn to the New Orleans Saints, the San Jose SaberCats of the AFL, the Carolina Panthers and then the 49ers.
“My first two years in Carolina I was on the active roster,” Folkerts said. “I sprained my ankle in the preseason and I got waived-injured. So I was doing the whole recovery process and San Francisco gave me an opportunity to get my foot back in the door, join up with their practice squad, just trying to work to make the active roster there. The next thing I know the hometown team, the St. Louis Rams, are calling me and they want to activate me. I was crazy excited to come home and get to work here.”
The 49ers had the option on Monday to sign Folkerts to their active roster, but they opted not to.
“We were coming off the bye week, so no one was injured or anything,” Folkerts said. “The choice was pretty clear whether I was going to stay on the practice squad there or come here active.”
It was overwhelming, he said.
“Just a chance to come home and play in front of my friends and family,” Folkerts said. “You really want to give it that extra effort, just to show everybody what you’ve been working for your whole career. Just to have the opportunity again to compete for a starting spot is going to be incredible.”
A 6-foot-4, 310-pound center-guard, Folkerts appeared in 10 games with the Panthers in 2013. He then played in all 16 games a year ago, filling a variety of roles for Ron Rivera’s squad.
“I was a swing guy,” Folkerts said. “I wasn’t a starter, but I’d sub in at center or guard and I was the heavy or the jumbo tight end for goal line or short yardage. I was on the field goal team, the kickoff return team. I’ve been all over the field, everywhere but defense.”
He’s not kidding. He played fullback for the SaberCats in the AFL.
Now, Folkerts will be working to get acclimated to the Rams’ offensive system while trying to work his way into the playing rotation.
“I think the thing I noticed is a lot of the teams run the same plays, they just have different words for them,” he said. “Scheme-wise, it’s all relatively the same. You just have to learn the language here and transition.”
The Rams (4-5), who play at the Baltimore Ravens (2-7) on Sunday, have lost three offensive linemen to season-ending injuries: starting guards Rodger Saffold and Jamon Brown and reserve tackle Darrell Williams.
“We looked at a lot of tape,” Fisher said. “We signed off of a practice squad Brian Folkerts, who’s got experience, from San Francisco. He was real excited to come here and go down the street and live with mom and dad, I guess. So that worked out for us. Then … the Texans waived Eric Kush and Eric’s got some center ability, some great feet, so we claimed him today off the waiver wire. That was good. We’re moving people around.”
Folkerts and Kush will add some veteran presence to a rebuilt Rams offensive line that is one of the youngest in the NFL. For Folkerts, it’s also an opportunity to return home and prove once again what he is capable of.