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Hello world: It's 'Caveman Center'

8/7/2014

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- He comes from Washburn University, home of the Division II Ichabods, whose nickname has nothing to do with Ichabod Crane from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

He has more rushing touchdowns the past two years than Carolina Panthers teammate Jonathan Stewart, albeit they were in the Arena Football League for the San Jose SaberCats and Stewart has been injured most of that time.

He's definitely got one of the coolest nicknames on the team.

Meet Brian Folkerts.

"Caveman Center."

When I asked coach Ron Rivera about players who have looked good in training camp, have a good story and haven't gotten much recognition, Folkerts was one of the first he mentioned.

Folkerts has a great story.

He went to high school in Florissant, Missouri where he was the left tackle and Carolina wide receiver hopeful Marvin McNutt was the starting quarterback. He then went to Washburn, a school of about 6,900 students in Topeka, Kansas, that as far as I can gather has sent only four or five other players to the NFL.

The most famous meeting of Ichabods in the NFL, by the way, happened two years ago when then-Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite met in Super Bowl XLVII.

That was interesting because in that game there were more former Ichabods than former Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State players, to name a few.

Before I go further, the nickname Ichabods came from a Ichabod Washburn, an early benefactor of the school.

Back to Folkerts. In 2012, he got a tryout for the New Orleans Saints, who worked him out as center. He admittedly wasn't ready to learn a new position, particularly one that required snapping the ball, and compete in the NFL at the same time.

The Saints cut Folkerts in training camp, so he signed with the SaberCats for the 2013 Arena season after a brief stint on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. There he got more adapt to playing center, but because Arena teams often put their more athletic lineman at fullback he became a dual threat.

"I got to run the ball on the goal line a few times," Folkerts said. "I got two touchdowns. First time I ever scored in my whole life."

He sounded proud.

The Panthers invited Folkerts to a two-day tryout in May 2013. He was signed and invited to training camp, where he made the 53-man roster.

When multiple players were injured in a Week 2 loss at Buffalo, he was cut to make room for players needed to fill those spots. He was re-signed to the practice squad and a few weeks later back to the 53-man roster.

He played in 10 games, making his first appearance in the Week 5 victory at the Minnesota Vikings that started an eight-game winning streak.

He's now solidly the backup to Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. He also plays some at backup guard.

"He's done a really nice job," Rivera said of the 6-foot-4, 310-pound project turned investment.

Told Rivera pointed me toward him, Folkerts sounded surprised.

"Really?" he said. "That's awesome."

As for the nickname, because nobody knew who Folkerts was, and because he had hair down to his neck and a shaggy beard that his girlfriend still hates, retired left tackle Jordan Gross called him "Caveman Center."

It stuck.

"I embrace it," Folkerts said.

Said Rivera, "Forever we thought that was his name. A couple of guys went to an event last year and they introduced him to their wives as 'Caveman Center.' "

This is my chance to introduce "Caveman Center" to the rest of the football world.