Daba Fofana aims high.
He spent his previous two high school years at Riverwood, but in transferring to West Forsyth before this school year, he didn’t hesitate to immediately start challenging himself. He filled his schedule with AP classes, to the point where the football team he was playing for couldn’t help but intervene just a little bit.
“We pulled him out of one to get him on a weight training class because he had an AP Latin class or something like that, and we're like, ‘What do you need that one for?’” West Forsyth head coach Shawn Cahill said. “He's kind of nerdy. He sits in the lunchroom and you see him with the really smart kids that are taking all these AP classes.”
On the football field, he’s the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 224 yards and three touchdowns so far, and has even found a role as the team’s punter. Even with running back being his primary position, he’s currently one of the county’s best special teams players, averaging 35.7 yards per punt.
Fofana’s high expectations aren’t limited to just the classroom, though. Like many players his age, he wants to play in college, and he looks to be on track to do that. But for him, the goal for his career is so much higher than that, fueled by a mentality that he’s carried since he was very young.
“I want to go pro,” Fofana said. “I see myself going to the NFL Hall of Fame. That's been my goal since I was six and I've been working really hard to get to it. I've always been raised that no matter what you do, you have to do it to the best you can and become the best at it and dedicate yourself to it. I've always had that mentality ever since my mom's been putting it in my mind.”
Before he can even try to get to that point, though, Fofana will be looking to help lead the Wolverines in region play, and with some unforeseen changes to the offense, his role might end up being bigger than ever by season’s end.
Fofana’s already seen a difference in the quality of competition in his first year as a 7A running back. At Riverwood, a 5A school, he could make most defenders miss, but with the higher quality of athletes, he’s needed to refine his game.
“He was used to being able to stop and cut and cut back on everybody,” Cahill said. “I think we found out in our first few games that he can make the first guy miss but the second, third and fourth ... Those linebackers can run and they were right there on him. We found that out quick in the game against Hewitt.”
When Cahill and his staff looked at Fofana’s tape, they also saw that he did some punting, which they decided to put on him this year as well. As his junior season’s gone on, he’s only gotten better on that front: He’s pinned three balls inside the 20 in West’s last two games, and has flipped the field with punts of 59 and 51 yards against Peachtree Ridge and McCallie (Tenn.), respectively. Fofana discovered his once-hidden talent for kicking the ball far in eighth grade, when he entered a contest to see who would kick for his team.
“I did it as a joke and it actually turned out to be something I was really good at,” Fofana said. “I just kind of went with it. It was kind of for fun. I wasn't really against it or for it.”
Initially, punting was an afterthought, but true to his overachieving nature, he’s begun to refine his punting technique with some training he found through a friend. West has thought about extending Fofana’s versatility even further by putting him on defense, but even though the Wolverines have prided themselves in player utilization, Cahill shot that idea down.
“Typically for me running back is off limits a little bit because I do like to run the ball so much,” he said. “It has been asked by the defensive coaches if he can come over and play a little bit but I said, ‘You can put him on the kickoff team if you want to. That's the only defense he's going to play.’”
With West’s slate of Region 5-7A games starting this week, Fofana’s role will only look to get bigger, partially because of circumstances. Quarterback Blake Whitfield broke his collarbone against McCallie, forcing Drew Southern, a two-way player, into the starting quarterback role.
“We're getting a lot of offensive linemen back now too, so we're hoping just to alleviate a little bit off of Drew because he's still going to play some safety,” Cahill said. “We're not going to be able to pull him off and make some adjustments like we did with Blake because Drew's going to be playing defense some of the time. We're going to have to rely on the running game a little bit more just to help Drew out.”