BIRMINGHAM — The jitters were real for Reuben Foster when he walked out on the Protective Stadium turf with his Pittsburgh Mauler teammates before Sunday night's USFL game against the New Orleans Breakers.

Prior to Sunday night, the last time Foster actually played in a regular season game was on Oct. 28, 2018, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in a road loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

"It's been four years since I played this game," said the 29-year-old former University of Alabama standout and first-round NFL Draft choice. "I'm so blessed to play to play the game that I've played since I was a little kid. I'm not the type of guy to want to go make a play, want to make a play. Guys tend to mess up like that. I'm going to do like Coach (Nick) Saban says, like Coach (Ray) Horton says, just do your job. I'm going to do my job while going to battle with my guys and just have their back."

Once the rust wore off, Foster looked like the guy who was a Butkus Award winner at Alabama in 2016. He roamed sideline to sideline, making tackles, finishing with 10 solo stops, 12 tackles overall, and a forced fumble during the 22-15 loss to the Breakers.

The forced fumble in the second quarter stood out on a night when he was the game's leading tackler. It came the play after Pittsburgh punter Matt Mengel's punt pinned the Breakers at the 1-yard line. New Orleans running back Anthony Jones took a handoff in the end zone and tried to give his team some breathing room. Foster fought off a block, met Jones in the hole, and punched the ball out while making the tackle. Pittsburgh linebacker Kyahva Tezino recovered in the end zone for the team's first touchdown of the game.

"My boy Tez, done got a touchdown," Foster said with a smile. "It was a great play. Everybody played together, was communicating. It was just a hard-nosed, downhill, hard count, looking for everything we can look for (play). It was just an adrenaline play."

Foster's football journey in football has included success, obviously, but has often been difficult. The heralded four-star recruit started slowly in college, but he was one of the country's top linebackers in his final two seasons. He was a late first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2017 draft. His stay in San Francisco lasted less than two seasons and included a two-game suspension by the NFL in 2018 following a weapons offense and misdemeanor drug charge. He was released in November of that year after a domestic violence arrest, a charge which was later dropped.

He was quickly signed by Washington but never played in a regular season game for the team. He suffered a knee injury before the 2019 season and never was healthy enough to play in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He had a pair of tryouts with NFL teams afterward, but nothing materialized.

Now, he is reviving his football career in the USFL. Ray Horton, a long-time NFL assistant coach, who is in his first season, was asked what adding Foster meant to his team.

"Everything," Horton said. "He's a legitimate player. He's a heckuva man, a leader. He's a guy that wants it to come down to him. He exemplifies what we want to be on defense. He's everything I could hope for. The men look toward him, so do I. He has all my respect. He's a phenomenal player. When you watch him in the classroom, how the players respect him and watch him. He really is a light on the hill, he really he is for us."

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