Jets Found New Team Leader That Embodies Steve McLendon

Foley Fatukasi

Getty New York Jets defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi celebrates a sack on November 29, 2020.

Throughout the New York Jets 2021 preseason period, a few players have stood out as leaders of this new Green & White core.

The rare veterans have had these roles thrust on them like it or not — the C.J. Mosleys and Marcus Mayes, or the Greg Van Roten and Corey Davis types. One player, in particular, has stood out though.

Defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi not only fits the leadership role he’s stepped into, but he also seems prepared for it. The former UCONN prospect came from humble NFL beginnings as a former sixth-round pick in 2018.

He was arguably ex-GM Mike Maccagnan’s top draft pick in five years’ worth of opportunities, developing into one of the toughest run-stuffing defensive linemen in the NFL. In terms of his culture-building, Fatukasi is often at the heart of the pregame huddles, hyping his teammates up.

The nose tackle is a three-year Jets veteran, which actually makes him one of the longest-tenured players on the roster, and he seems to have taken on these crucial duties in stride. Of course, he did have some help learning from one of the best.

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Fatukasi Turning Into Steve McLendon

Back on August 9, Fatukasi addressed the media for the first time in training camp this season.

“I feel pretty confident,” the DT began, “I feel pretty good about us, but that’s not to say — you know we understand that we have a lot of work to get done to keep sharpening our tools, but I feel like we’re coming along and we’re taking the right steps.”

He proclaimed that each guy in the D-line room is “selfless,” but no Jets defensive linemen emulated this trait more than Fatukasi’s mentor, Steve McLendon.

The 2020 Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a member of Gang Green for four and a half seasons. He instilled a ton of wisdom on fellow defensive tackle Fatukasi over that period, even though the prospect eventually made him expendable.

Connor Hughes of The Athletic actually noting that Fatukasi was “giving off some Steve McLendon vibes” in the presser, asking the big-man if the two have kept in touch after he was traded to Tampa.

Fatukasi responded: “Ah man, big Steve, obviously you guys know I could talk a lot about him. He’s been a tremendous friend, mentor, a brother to a lot of people… I was fortunate, we were fortunate as players [and] as friends to have him around, but as he would tell me, the show’s still going and you have to keep going.”

The Jets DT added that the two still talk “on a daily basis.” To mirror the Bucs’ level of success, Fatukasi said it’s “just as simple as everyone doing their job.”

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Defense Takes a Hit, ‘Standard Has to Stay High’

On August 21, Fatukasi spoke on the Carl Lawson injury, displaying that McLendon-type perspective once again.

“Look, losing Carl to be honest was a breath-taker, but one thing that we understand especially after talking to him is he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, and he tells us ‘yo, the standard has to stay high, you guys have to keep performing’… hearing those words from him, we understand what we need to do and how we need to keep progressing,” Fatuksi replied.

Lawson has always seemed like more of a lead-by-example type himself, Fatukasi is both. He referred to the ferocious edge rusher as a “man who has faith [and] sees a bigger vision,” implying that the Jets have to do the same.

“Just because [one player is] down, doesn’t mean the level of play drops,” he elaborated later.

On One Jets Drive, Fatukasi explained how the New York mentality has rubbed off on him. “Being a New Yorker, New Yorkers are just tough, gritty people. You got to work to get the things that you want, nothing’s going to be handed to you.”

You see, although ‘Foley’ comes from a Nigerian upbringing, he’s a Queens native. It feels like the hard-nosed defensive tackle was destined to represent NYC, being that he embodies the essence of the Big Apple.

In the end, his goal for his unit in 2021 is simple. “We want to be a really really good D-line, we have high expectations of ourselves and of each other. We understand what we need to do, we understand where we need to go, we understand where we need to focus at. In terms of the things that we want to accomplish, there’s a lot of things that we want to accomplish but that only comes from the amount of work that we put out here every day.”

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