Foster Earning Spotlight for Aztecs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The lights were never this bright at DeAnza Community College.

Lou Foster shifted his weight from one foot to the other underneath the stands at Cougar Stadium on the campus of Brigham Young University, surrounded by drab, gray concrete. Floors, walls, ceilings. All around him, concrete.

The stadium was practically deserted other than a dozen or so people. Voices echoed, then hushed. Foster waited. His teammate, Dan McGwire, was being interviewed by a couple of guys from CBS television as the network prepared to beam SDSU-BYU nationally the following day.

The television lights seemed as if they were about two million watts.

This was last Friday, and in another day, SDSU would play the No. 4 team in the country. And the TV guys had requested interviews with McGwire . . . and Foster.

He stood alone. He worried that maybe he should be wearing his glasses rather than his contact lenses, for the Mike Singletary look. He wondered what he was going to say. A minute passed, and then another, and then the television crew signaled that they were ready. Lou Foster stepped forward, into the lights . . .

For two years, he had played football in the relative obscurity of a community college program, DeAnza, just outside San Jose. He is a linebacker but stands just 5-feet-11 (he weighs 230 pounds). There isn't much of a demand for football players--let alone linebackers--at that height, so Foster ended up DeAnza after his years at Oak Grove High School in San Jose.

That's where he caught SDSU Coach Al Luginbill's attention. Foster was chosen second-team all-state last year, having averaged 17 tackles per game. He led DeAnza in tackling both years.

Then he walked onto the SDSU campus last spring and promptly earned the starting middle linebacker job.

Things were great for a while. He would be able to reach out and touch his dream, just as soon as the season started. Division I football. The big time. He would start.

He pulled his right hamstring during conditioning drills in mid-August, a few days before SDSU began two-a-days. It took longer than expected to heal, and he missed the season opener at Oregon. Finally, he got in for a few plays Sept. 15 against Cal State Long Beach.

Now, here came BYU. And the television cameras. Someone had put his life on fast-forward, then turned the volume all the way up.

"That was the first time anybody ever asked me to do a television interview concerning football," Foster said. "It was fun. I enjoyed it."

He would have enjoyed it all a little bit more if the Cougars hadn't raked the Aztec defense for 62 points and 641 total yards. Foster had a decent game, but he missed a few assignments. Like the rest of the Aztec defense, he is learning.

Defending against the run has been the strength of an SDSU defense that is ranked last in the country (106th) among NCAA Division I schools in total defense (an average of 509.7 yards allowed per game). The Aztecs have allowed 101.3 yards a game on the ground, which puts them 21st in the country. Part of that credit has to go to Foster, despite the practice--and game time--he has missed. A year ago, the Aztecs gave up 181 yards a game rushing.

It is the middle linebacker's responsibility in the SDSU defensive scheme to call out plays and lead pursuit. Foster caught on almost immediately last spring.

"The middle linebacker is an extremely important player in our defense," Luginbill said. "We free him up to make tackles, and we expect him to make tackles."

And with the Air Force wishbone coming to town Saturday, Foster and the rest of the SDSU defense will get a chance to continue their improvement against the run.

"Hey, I'm chomping my lips," Foster said. "We have an opportunity to show a lot of people we're very good against the run."

The two things that give you the most insight into Lou Foster are these:

* He is starting at middle linebacker for a Division I football team despite his height.

* His teammates look up to him.

Yes. There are jokes about his size, and this is where peanuts come in.

"Our coaches tease us all the time about being small," said Foster's roommate and starting outside linebacker Andy Coviello, who is just 6-0, 215. "They tease us about how people can eat peanuts off the top of our heads."

But that's about as far as the jokes go. When Foster wears his glasses, he looks like Singletary. He plays as if he knows what he is doing.

Luginbill has said several times that the Aztec defense had nobody as intense and fiesty as Foster last season. The thing about Lou Foster is that he loves to hit.

Reporter: "What do you like best about football?"

Foster: Pause. Smile. "I get to hit somebody and not get sent to jail for it."

Said Coviello: "I've seen him hit people 20 yards downfield for no reason, but the whistle hadn't blown yet.

"I've never seen him not hyped. Certain people go through the motions. Lou, never. He leads by example."

Sometimes, this leads to late nights for the roommates.

"He's very serious," Coviello said. "We'll go home, and sometimes it's hard to get our homework done because we'll talk about different ways to hit. He loves football.

"A lot of times, we've stayed up until one or two in the morning talking about, 'Oh, man, I remember when I did this,' or, last week, 'I can't wait to hit Ty (Detmer).' This week, it's 'I can't wait to hit the Air Force fullbacks.' "

Maybe this is why the Aztecs took an instant liking to their new linebacker last spring. He's a physical nut on the field. He loves the game. And off the field, he's got an easy-going, friendly manner.

"We're just a much better defensive team when he's on the field," Luginbill said. "We don't have the same unification, we don't have the same overall unity we have when he's not on the field."

Why?

"I don't know. It's his personality. He draws on kids, and our kids will follow him."

Said Coviello: "I think everybody respects him for maybe this aura he has about him. There's something about Lou. When you look at him, he has a look on his face like he knows what's up. He means business and he's serious. We all kind of look up to him in a way."

The hamstring, Foster said, is about 95% healthy. He played only about half of the BYU game and hopes to play more Saturday. Luginbill says Foster is still playing catch-up because of time missed with the injury. Still, Luginbill feels better when Foster is on the field, even if Foster makes mistakes from time to time.

"Everybody says he's too short to play," Luginbill said. "I think his belief in himself and his confidence in himself as a football player, and his pride in wanting to do what's right, is what's impressive about him. He's a very coachable kid, and he wants to do what's right helping the team win. He just exudes that all the time."

Sunday, Foster and Coviello arrived at the SDSU football offices to watch film and see where they went wrong against BYU. It was an off-day for the Aztecs, but they didn't want to wait until Monday to see what they needed to work on.

Foster saw his problem clearly. From time to time, he wasn't "snugging" the BYU backs enough. In other words, he was a bit too far behind the line of scrimmage, allowing the BYU backs an extra couple of steps head start. One time, he saw where he could have gotten a sack had he been up a little closer.

The films moved along, and Foster sat there in the darkness. There were no lights now, just the images flickering across the television screen.

There was work to be done.

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