A street kid with desire, he scrapped to become a college football player over a long, worrisome road that took the freshness out of his face but never hardened his heart.
At 23, he has even become a student--which was perceived as a miracle, although it's still hard to mistake him for one around the tranquil fountains and groomed lawns at Cal State Long Beach. The female students seem a bit scared off by this longhaired guy who rides a motorcycle, wears a denim jacket over nothing but bare, sun-darkened muscle and goes by the name Junkyard Dog in the last place you'd expect to find a junkyard dog.
But Mark Faust has always preferred a gridiron to a quadrangle and that is where he is at home, prowling unleashed, looking properly mangy with his hair hanging wildly in his eyes and out of his helmet. And when his marauding is over, the striped grass does resemble a junkyard, strewn with hulks of players who, in this 6-foot-2, 238-pound defensive tackle, have met their match.
"He's nasty and mean," says 49ers defensive end Tom Hensley, who lines up next to Faust. "He can hit."
Awaiting the Snap
Faust is down in his stance during a sweaty one-on-one drill between defensive and offensive linemen on the 49er practice field. This is the second practice of the day and the cool blue mist of morning has given way to pure heat. Coaches and teammates are watching. In seconds, one of the players will feel superiority or, at worst, humiliation. Faust's hands are dug tensely into the grass. He and his opponent await the snap of the ball.
Michael White, the defensive line coach, reminds, "It's a damn attitude, Mark."
Faust springs at his opponent and they lock up with the force of two boxcars in a switching yard. They strain and grunt chin to chin, the coaches screaming at them. Just as the offensive lineman, who has a 30-pound weight advantage, looks through Faust's face mask and sees those terrifying dark liquid eyes, Faust, his arms flailing violently, legs pumping, puts on a move and and is past him in a flash, snarling all the way to the quarterback.
The offensive lineman curses but Faust doesn't gloat over his display of speed, power and attitude. He is eager for others to follow his example. He insists on it.
"Let's go, guys, let's get fired up, C'mon, kick a--," he yells.
The players are tired but Faust's words and actions--he is a dog who refuses to nap--renew their intensity.
At the end of practice, Dave Komendat, a backup defensive end, says of Faust, "I wouldn't want to play against him. He wants to play all the time. Some of us were talking the other day and said, 'Damn, I'm glad he's on our side.' "
Tight end Rick Trigueiro advises watching Faust during the 49ers' opener Sept. 7 against Utah State at Veterans Stadium.
"He'll be the guy out there with the dirtiest uniform," Trigueiro says. "But he doesn't care what he looks like as long as he wins."
Long Beach Head Coach Mike Sheppard says Faust might just be the team's best defensive player, which is high praise because the defensive line includes Hensley and Chuck Meierbachtol, both of whom made the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. second team last season.
Faust definitely is first in fanaticism.
He looks just as intimidating without his football uniform--even after he's brushed his shaggy mane and scrubbed all the dirt off his hide--and is usually approached with caution if at all.
White, who named Faust the Junkyard Dog, says, "If you had to go in a dark alley, you'd want him with you."
A Gentle Giant
But only on the field is Faust an animal--his mother calls him a gentle giant--and he is sensitive to the longstanding image of a football player being one all the time.
"I don't like that stereotype," he says. "We're a pretty well-liked group (football players) here. We don't hassle people."
But he has seen players push people around in a bar with a what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it look, or use their size to intimidate other students by cutting in front of a line.
"If I see them doing that, I think, 'What jerks,' " Faust says.
"I try to be friendly with as many people as I can but I'm not saying I'm a real nice guy walking around. But the coaches tell us to stay cool and that helps us grow up."
His growing up began in a tough North Long Beach neighborhood, where he lived with his mother, two brothers and two sisters.
"Financially, things were really bad," says Timaree Faust, who now lives in Riverside and who for 17 years raised her children alone while struggling with an admitted alcohol problem. "I couldn't give them what most kids had. But there was a lot of love."
Faust was always helping out. He'd work to bring home milk and bread. And when there was no money to rent a limousine to take his date to a prom one year (it was the fashion), he got a job, which got him the limo, which made his mom proud.
He was on his own living in an apartment by the time he was a junior in high school, a free-spirited street kid who wouldn't mess with someone unless someone messed with him. Besides, he always had football--at his mother's insistence--to keep him away from the temptations of dark alleys.
"She was my greatest influence; she always wanted me to play sports, sports, sports," says Faust, who, next to football, loves surfing best.
"He always had a tremendous desire to play ball," says Timaree Faust.
Faust started playing Pop Warner football when he was 12, then played three years at Jordan High School as a nose guard and fullback. He played both positions for two years at Long Beach City College before coming to Cal State Long Beach last year, when he had nine quarterback sacks and 21 tackles. His problem was that he missed more classes than ball carriers and by the end of the school year found himself suspended and his career on the brink of the drain.
"We sat down before summer school, looked at each other and said this will take a miracle," says Suzanne Wurzer, an assistant CSULB athletic director who advises athletes on academics.
Faust, an industrial arts major, was faced with the chilling task of having to earn 12 units in academic subjects to stay on the team. He took courses--including two in speech and one in sociology--at CSULB and at LBCC in the morning, then worked framing houses in Belmont Shore in the afternoon.
He got C's or better in all of the courses to make what Sheppard calls "one of the great academic recoveries in modern history." Wurzer calls it "phenomenal."
Faust decided to make the commitment when he recalled a teammate who became academically ineligible. "I saw the look on his face when they told him and that is one thing I didn't want to feel." Faust says.
And this fall as a senior, although he says he still thinks of himself as a football player and not a student, he vows, "I'm going to go to class."
Faust's next worry is what's going to happen next year. He hopes it will be professional football.
"I want to make some money out of football," he says. "I don't want to frame houses the rest of my life. All I want is a shot."
What he needs most are more weight and more recognition.
"I think I've got the heart and the ability," he says.
Line coach White likes Faust's strength and intensity but is skeptical that Faust can gain the pounds necessary to go against the 280-to-290-pound pros.
"He's never been a three-meal-a-day kid," White says, referring to Faust's economic background.
And the rigors of this summer--he had to travel by bicycle to school and work--haven't helped the Junkyard Dog. On a recent morning, Faust noticed that his football pants, which were tight last year, had started to bag.
"By the end of the season, when the scouts come around, I'd like to be at least at 245," Faust says after a lunch of a meatball sandwich and two draft beers. "I need to totally concentrate on weight lifting."
If he does bulk up, if he does make it in the pros, won't the future be nice.
Faust can see it now: "I'll make some money, find a real outgoing but classy lady, get some land, a place to call my own. I've never been able to call something my own."
And then, for the first time in his life, he'll really be able to put on the dog.