Freshman's play, talk make a mark

Posted: August 9, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas defensive back Joseph Foucha (left) works through a drill with Dameron Vail Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Joe Foucha's swagger has not been lost on difference-makers for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

"This young man, a freshman, he looks the part," Coach Chad Morris said Saturday. "The moment isn't too big for him right now. Obviously, we're in just helmets and shorts, but being out here he's not physically intimidated."

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Foucha at a glance

CLASS Freshman

POSITION Safety

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6 feet, 202 pounds

HOMETOWN New Orleans

HIGH SCHOOL McDonogh 35

NOTEWORTHY Rated the No. 18 player in Louisiana by Rivals and the No. 21 player in the state by 247Sports. … First-team Class 4A all-state after senior year with 68 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries and 15 pass breakups. … Scored five touchdowns as a junior, including some in the kicking game. … Chose Arkansas over Ole Miss and reported offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma and others.

HOG FUTURES

Thirteenth in a series highlighting newcomers to the Arkansas Razorbacks football team

Foucha's advanced football awareness reminded one of the Razorbacks' most self-assured players of himself.

"Joe is very physical," junior cornberback Ryan Pulley said. "I love Joe. He's got that swagger about him, and I love that. He reminds me of me when I first came in. He just knows he's good."

The freshman safety and nickel back, who describes himself as a pudgy kid, wasn't always loaded with moxie. And he's no stranger to hardship.

Adversity followed Foucha (pronounced Foo-shay), who grew up on the tough streets of a disadvantaged neighborhood. His house flooded when he was a pre-schooler during Hurricane Katrina, forcing the family's evacuation to his grandmother's house on higher ground nearby the Superdome, and finally, to a shelter in Texas.

"I wasn't as scared," Foucha said of Katrina, which displaced his family for months. "Things were already like rough for me, so I wasn't as scared. It was like another obstacle I had to get over and kind of made me who I am today, the strong person I am today."

An example of Foucha's strength: During a University of Arkansas team meeting on the day prior to Morris' appearance at SEC football media days July 17, Foucha felt inspired to voluntarily stand up and speak in front of the team.

"For a freshman to walk in and be able to speak up says a lot, especially about what he's learning through the process," Morris said at media days in Atlanta.

Senior safety Santos Ramirez was impressed.

"Joe Foucha is a guy who really stood out to me as a guy who was confident talking in front of the whole team," Ramirez said. "A lot of guys really get nervous, but he spoke his mind. That stood out to me. It showed me he has the potential to be a leader.

"I like him. I feel like he just has to calm down a little bit mentally, but he's got all the physical tools. He can play that nickel position, play safety. He's got a great physique on him. It's just all about now mastering the mental side of the game."

Foucha's days as a quarterback were numbered in eighth grade when he threw an interception while filling in for the team's injured starter. But there was an upside to the incident, as his defensive coordinator at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans pointed out.

"I said, 'You know what? I've got room for you on defense,' " coordinator Frank Deggs said. "Because he ran down the field and tackled the guy, no problem."

Deggs said Foucha is one of the top five prep players to come out of New Orleans in the past 20 years.

"He's a hard worker, determined, can't be told 'no.' He will grab everybody's attention, because once he hits you or picks the ball off, you're going to know that. He's going to make sure everybody knows that."

Foucha stands 6 feet tall, weighs 198 pounds and is in the process of adding weight.

"I'm trying to gain as much weight as possible," he said in mid-July. "I want to get to 210, so after fall camp I'll be at 200 or 195."

He's also made a goal of becoming a freshman All-American.

"I hold myself to a very high standard," he said. "I want to make an impact as much as I can on kick return or any special team I can get on. Any way I can get on the field."

Morris listed Foucha as one of the team's top rookies on national signing day and said he has the tools to contribute early.

"He's a very highly recruited young man and a guy that we need to play," Morris said. "We need for him to be ready to provide us the depth that we need, so we'll see how it goes with him."

Foucha arrived in Fayetteville early this summer with a college-level physique, but it hasn't always been that way.

"When I first started playing park ball, I was playing O-lineman and D-lineman," Foucha said. "Yeah, I was kind of chubby. But the way I was built, I felt like this ain't me. It had me thinking in my head, I've got to start working harder ... because we had certain players on my team who were good."

Foucha went through the task of reshaping his body and played fullback the next year, then moved into the quarterback role that led to his final destination: safety.

"That was my first year ever playing defense," Foucha said. "I caught like seven picks."

Foucha was most closely tied to Ole Miss and had not planned to visit the Razorbacks until Chad Morris came on late.

"I wasn't going to come out here because of the things I'd heard, but when I came out here on my official I was like, 'Oh, man,' and I fell in love with Fayetteville itself and the the facilities and all that," Foucha said. "Then like the thing that topped it off was when they made the coaching change. That kind of sealed the deal."

Defensive backs coach Ron Cooper was Foucha's primary recruiter.

"Our relationship is good," Foucha said. "He's been recruiting me since my freshman year. Some of the players he's coached I looked up to. One in particular is like Tyrann Mathieu. We come from the same place, same area, played for the same park."

If Foucha can develop like a young Honey Badger, Mathieu's nickname, the Razorbacks will have a star on their hands.

Sports on 08/09/2018