Football is a game of hard hits and emotion, and through it all Florida A&M linebacker Demarius Folsom gleams a big, bright smile.

A smile that coaches in the past may not have approved of.

However, don’t be fooled by the fifth-year senior’s pleasant demeanor.

He is a down-to-business, fierce competitor. This was evident in Florida A&M’s 23-17 loss to Hampton on Sept. 8.

After fellow starter Alvis Graham — the mainstay of the defense with 190 tackles in three seasons — left in the first quarter of that game with a knee injury that will lead to him missing the remainder of the season, the departure created a massive hole in the linebacking corps.

A void that Folsom gladly plugged in.

“It became a lot more personal for me,” Folsom said. “Seeing him go down, I had to step up, and the coach looked to me. I had to put on my hard hat and go to work.”

Folsom led the charge. He made tackle after tackle, registering a career-high 14 stops by the game’s end.

Folsom followed up that performance with eight tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery at then-No. 20 South Florida on Saturday, although the Rattlers surrendered 745 yards in a 70-17 bruising.

Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor and Folsom attribute No. 11’s success to the amount of film the linebacker studies throughout the week.

“He’s like a coach on the field,” Taylor said. “He makes sure everyone is in place. That’s the kind of mental toughness you want to see in one of your leaders.”

Folsom wasn’t shy when he said he was a smart guy. He acknowledged knowing many tips and tendencies from opposing teams.

When asked about Saturday’s opponent, Southern, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Folsom proceeded to rattle off the Jaguars offense stating that quarterback Dray Joseph is a threat in both the passing and rushing game, and it is odd that Joseph leads the team in rushing.

Folsom then named SU’s running backs, something many players may not know —especially when facing an out-of-conference foe.

Breaking down film and playing the sport is fun for Folsom, who has strapped on a helmet since the second grade.

“You have to be mentally tough to play football,” Folsom said. “Football allows you to get away when you’re having tough times and just focus on football.”

Taylor has been impressed with Folsom’s growth over the years in all areas of life.

On the field, Folsom’s development has blossomed with his patience and then production. Folsom waited three years until he consistently contributed to the defense. In 2010, he was second on the team behind cornerback Qier Hall with 58 tackles and led the team with 10 tackles for loss.

Off the field, Taylor applauded Folsom for his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Folsom sings in the choir.

But what about all that smiling from Folsom? Well, Taylor actually enjoys it.

“We tell these guys when the good Lord wakes you up, you have to go have a day,” Taylor said. “He seems to understand that. I just love it when young people do have that joy and kind of spirit.”

Coming out of Madison County High School in Madison, Fla., Folsom said he would have gone to a junior college if it wasn’t for football helping him receive a scholarship to Florida A&M.

Now on pace to graduate with a criminal justice degree in May, Folsom has his eyes set on law school, where he wants to eventually become a lawyer for football players among other things.

One thing is certain for Folsom: He will need to apply the same study habits he currently uses watching film to the course load he will receive in law school.