Juwan Foggie had started thinking about it around the start of the new year.
At first, he toyed with the idea, but then it became more real to him: What if he switched from offense to defense?
This is the same Juwan Foggie who was recruited as a wide receiver out of High Point Central, where he was an All-Triad selection after a senior season with nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a force that two Charlotte-area schools had a tough time stopping.
But after two seasons as a wide receiver with the Charlotte 49ers, Foggie went to coach Brad Lambert late last winter and asked, “Would you be willing to let me switch to defense?”
“I didn’t know how he’d respond,” Foggie recalled this week. “But he came back the next day and said, ‘Let’s try it.’ ”
Now Foggie is one of the 49ers’ leading defensive players, part of a strong linebacking corps that also includes Charlotte Catholic product Karrington King, who defended against wide receiver Foggie in high school.
He and the other 49ers will try to bring the team its first victory Saturday night, when Charlotte (0-4, 0-0 Conference USA) visits Florida International (2-1, 1-0) for a 7 p.m. game.
Foggie says he played a little defense in his freshman year at High Point Central but concentrated on offense after that. He had 2,300 career receiving yards with the Bison. As a senior, he had 142 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 playoff victory over Hopewell. The following week, in his team’s 42-21 loss at Catholic, he caught five more passes for 84 yards.
“Playing defense was just something that resonated with me,” Foggie said. “I liked the idea of tackling.”
At 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds, the redshirt junior is certainly big enough to play linebacker.
He made the transition in spring drills, and as you’d expect, there was a learning curve. The 49ers’ coaches joked with him, yelling, “You’re on defense,” when he’d make a mistake. But they also worked with him, and Foggie, an honor student majoring in sociology and psychology, studied hard.
“There was a lot of film study, a lot of reading the playbook,” he said.
Foggie spent part of the summer in seven-on-seven practices, working at his new position.
“By the time we got to fall practice, I felt ready,” he said.
Foggie made an auspicious debut at linebacker, with a forced fumble and two quarterback hits in the 24-7 opening loss at Eastern Michigan. Last week against Georgia State, he had a career-high 11 tackles.
Lambert and the defensive coaches say Foggie has a good mind for the game, can see plays developing, and reacts well.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “It’s a process. But if I make a mistake, I try to learn from it and move on. There’s no time to worry about it. Another play is coming in a few seconds.”
Foggie said he and his teammates are looking at Saturday night’s conference opener as a chance for a fresh start.
“We’re 0-0 in the conference,” he said. “That means it’s a new season. We’re excited about this game.”
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle