A few months earlier, he was an unknown commodity to most of his new defensive coaches. Now, he’s being counted on to play a significant role on Georgia’s defense.
“I can’t predict the future, but it is encouraging,” Faloughi said. “It’s encouraging because it tells you that hard work pays off.”
Getting to this point has meant Faloughi has done his fair share of hard work.
Playing at Evans High School, Faloughi only earned tepid interest from a handful of smaller schools, and he wasn’t seriously considering playing football in college. A few Ivy League schools inquired about him, and Furman actually made an offer.
“Vanderbilt turned me down, I remember that,” Faloughi said.
Aside from that, however, there was little hope for a scholarship.
But as his high school career wound down, Faloughi attended a camp at Georgia, and he showed enough skill to catch the attention of former defensive ends coach Jon Fabris. After the workout, Fabris pulled him aside and offered some encouragement. Faloughi was awfully raw, Fabris told him, but he had potential. If he worked hard, the coach said, Faloughi could play at Georgia.
“I stuck with that, and I didn’t change my goals or direction,” Faloughi said. “I had to see if I could play with these boys. I can’t live with the ‘what ifs’ – what if I didn’t go there or what if I should have went there. And I’m here now.”
Fabris kept his eye on Faloughi, and although Georgia couldn’t offer him a scholarship out of high school, he was given preferred walk-on status and invited to fall camp. Furman’s scholarship offer came a day after Faloughi accepted Georgia’s invitation, but he never considered changing his mind.
“We knew he was a very good player out of high school, and we knew he had other opportunities, but he really wanted to come to Georgia and prove he could do it,” head coach Mark Richt said.
At 6-foot-5 and just 210 pounds, however, Faloughi was woefully undersized to play defensive end. He was skinny, and he wasn’t particularly strong. Not SEC strong anyway. But again, the potential was there. He had the frame to build upon, he just had to put the work in.
Faloughi impressed – as much as a walk-on can as a true freshman – last year, but while being redshirted, he mostly worked on getting his body in shape. When the defensive scheme switched to the 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, moving Faloughi to outside linebacker, he found he was already well suited for the role.
“I’m still not where I want to be, but, in the 4-3 (scheme), I wanted to be a 260 (pound) D-end,” Faloughi said. “But now I’m just worried about strength. I just want to be strong, and I don’t think the weight really makes a difference where I’m playing now.”
In the weight room, Faloughi has quickly become one of the better producers, and he’s now weighing in at 235 pounds. He doesn’t have quite the size or wingspan of players line Justin Houston, but strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger said Faloughi makes up for some of his shortcomings by outworking everyone else.
“The thing he’s really done is he’s grown mentally,” Van Halanger said. “He came here without a scholarship, and he is working like a madman to get one. He has such a hunger, and he’ll do extra all the time. He’s a kid that does more than anybody else, because he knows he doesn’t have a scholarship and he wants one.”
Improving in the weight room was hardly the biggest obstacle to overcome for Faloughi. Learning the complex schemes that come with playing in the SEC was a far more intimidating chore.
Faloughi made progress last season, but when Fabris was fired last December and the new staff was brought in earlier this year, it was almost like starting from scratch, he said. Richt knew who Faloughi was, but to the rest of the coaches, he was simply another walk-on fighting for attention on a crowded roster.
Learning the new 3-4 defensive scheme and switching to a new position didn’t make things much easier. For a player who hadn’t planned on playing in college in the first place, he was now sitting in position meetings with a former NFL defensive coordinator –lessons Faloughi said are more like a business meeting than a football meeting.
“This spring has been a learning experience,” Faloughi said. “It’s coming 100 miles an hour, and I’m trying to catch it all. New defense, new techniques, new style – I’m just trying to pick it up.”
So far, so good.
Grantham said Faloughi always looked sharp in individual drills during practice, but he has shown an increased ability to translate those efforts into 11-on-11 drills of late. Grantham praised Faloughi’s ability to take on tight ends in the running game and an increased ability to rush the passer, while Houston said he’s been impressed by how much better Faloughi has gotten at using his hands this spring.
“He’s got a linebacker body,” Grantham said. “He’s got some strength in his hands. He’s young. He’s very conscientious. He improves every day in the things we ask him to improve upon.”
Faloughi isn’t fooling himself into believing he doesn’t have a lot of improvement left to make. For now, he’s closing in on the top of the depth chart, but there will be a new group of more heralded players coming in on scholarship to help fill the ranks at outside linebacker this fall.
But it’s all been an uphill climb for Faloughi, and he’s not easily intimidated.
“My mentality is just, I feel like when I’m on the field, the guy across the ball, there’s no way he works harder than me,” Faloughi said. “That just drives me every day in the weight room. I know right now I’m not as big as everybody, but I feel like hard work in the end has to do something. And if it does, at least I gave the effort.”