Former Ram Brian Folkerts happy to bring football back to St. Louis with BattleHawks
ST. LOUIS — Brian Folkerts is experiencing a bit of déjà vu as he prepares for his first game with the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Folkerts, who is expected to start at center as the new XFL franchise begins its inaugural season Sunday, is the only player on the roster who also played for St. Louis’ last professional football team. Folkerts signed with the Rams in November 2015 — their final season in the Gateway to the West — so as the BattleHawks began practicing late last year, he was in the unique position of knowing his way around the facility, which was previously known as Rams Park but has since been rebranded as Lou Fusz Athletic Training Center.
“It’s eerie,” Folkerts says of being back in the same complex years later with a different team in a different league. “We’re back in our same locker room. I just kind of notice all the little differences, like we’re in the wide receivers room and I’m like, ‘Why aren’t we in the O-line room?’ It’s kind of cool, it’s kind of nostalgic being back here.”
It’s easy to understand why Folkerts seems legitimately sad when he talks about being part of the group that moved to Los Angeles for the 2016 season. After all, he’s a Florissant, Missouri, native who attended Hazelwood Central High School and grew up watching the Rams.
Four years after the team’s infamous departure, though, Folkerts is happy to be playing football in his hometown again and hopes he can make St. Louis football fans proud.
“We definitely felt the heat from the city when we left,” Folkerts says. “I’m just glad to be back here and be part of the team that brought football back. … All my family and friends are still here. It’s a great town, and I just want to represent it well and kind of show them I’ve still got it.”
Folkerts has a relatively lengthy NFL resume: After signing as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Washburn, he went to training camp with the New Orleans Saints in 2012, spent most of the 2013-14 seasons as well as the 2015 preseason with the Carolina Panthers, joined the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad later that year before signing with the Rams, then went back to the Panthers for training camp in 2017.
At the same time, though, he’s no stranger to playing in lower-level professional leagues.
The new XFL is the 6-foot-4, 310-pound lineman’s fourth league, as he played for the Arena Football League’s San Jose SaberCats in 2013 and the short-lived Alliance of American Football’s San Antonio Commanders last spring. While the constant change Folkerts has endured could easily wear a player down, he says it’s only made him stronger: “If anything, I think it’s just made me more versatile, just the knowledge of the game. Each (league) is so different — just the overall knowledge has kind of helped me out.”
While Folkerts’ primary goal during his previous stints in lower-level leagues may have been a return to the NFL, he’s focused on the here and now with the BattleHawks, savoring another chance to play professional football in his hometown.
“For me, it’s just a love for the game,” Folkerts says. “I just can’t seem to quit football, you know? I missed the locker room, I missed the guys. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m just here. They said just be where your feet are, so that’s where I’m at.”
And as a 30-year-old in his eighth professional season, Folkerts has the experience necessary to be a valuable mentor to his teammates. He’s had a particularly strong influence on fellow Florissant native Brian Wallace, a 24-year-old offensive tackle who is looking to establish himself after spending time in the training camps of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks last summer. “It’s nice to have somebody that helps me the whole time,” Wallace says. “I can actually relate to him and talk to him like, ‘You know where everything is at.’”
While Folkerts may not have envisioned himself playing in an upstart league after beating the odds to reach the NFL, he’s now getting the opportunity to do the things that so many players strive for, anchoring the BattleHawks’ offensive line and imparting his wisdom to younger players. And most important, he’s doing what every young athlete dreams of — playing the game he loves in the city he loves.