Aztec Freshman Arrives in a Flurry
So what are we to make of this football season by San Diego State freshman Marshall Faulk?
Or master piece?
And what if other artists conducted their business the way Faulk conducted his in 1991?
If Marshall were the law, rather than the exception, our culture would be enriched today by such works as:
“The Two Musketeers.”
“A Tale of One City.”
“Around the World in 73 Days and a Couple Hours.”
In 1991, Marshall Faulk was a Cliff Notes version of Barry Sanders, the Reader’s Digest Marcus Allen. Uncut and unabridged, he’d have produced one of the greatest rushing seasons in college football history--the first 2,000-yard freshman?--but as it was, Faulk could outrun only linebackers and safeties, not the editors.
In one game in early September, Faulk ran for 386 yards and seven touchdowns--and only played three quarters.
For the season, Faulk led the nation in rushing (1,429 yards) and scoring (140 points)--and missed 3 1/2 games because of broken ribs.
Three weeks ago, Faulk was named to the Associated Press’ All-American first team--and yet he was first team at San Diego State only six times in 12 games.
Faulk was a one-man hurry-up offense. He ran so fast and so far because he never knew when and where his next handoff was coming from. He made up a lot of ground because he was continually making up for lost time.
The week after Faulk rushed for 386 yards against the University of the Pacific--the NCAA single-game record at the time--he was on the bench. Faulk only got his chance against Pacific because San Diego State’s starting tailback, T.C. Wright, got hurt and Aztec Coach Al Luginbill has this rule: No starter can lose his job because of an injury--even if his replacement scores 44 points in 45 minutes.
Faulk entered the Pacific game with 3:55 to play in the first quarter and left with 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. In between, he carried the football 37 times for seven touchdowns, a two-point conversion and nine more yards than the existing NCAA record (377), which Indiana’s Anthony Thompson set in 1989.
This, remember, was an 18-year-old freshman, appearing in just his second Division I-A game, and yet, Faulk can only look at those missing 15 minutes and wonder.
“It would’ve been scary,” Faulk says, matter-of-factly. “It probably would’ve made me miss a week of practice and another game, I’d have been so tired. But it would’ve been worthwhile.”
Faulk wonders, more than ever, in the wake of Kansas tailback Tony Sands’ season finale against Missouri. Sands broke Faulk’s two-month-old record on Nov. 23, rushing for 396 yards. A neat little feat. Faulk, however, notices that Sands had to move his little feet 58 times to do it.
“Any one can break a record at any time if he’s going to carry the ball 58 times,” Faulk says. “Fifty-eight times--and he only got 396 yards. That’s just 10 more yards than me and I had 37 carries.
“I only played (three) quarters. He played four quarters and only had three TDs. I had seven. So I didn’t take too much offense when he broke the record.”
Faulk stands 5 feet 10. He weighs 180 pounds. He has been called a compact runner, but that’s as much a job description as a physical description.
Give Faulk an inch, he’ll run a mile.
He recalls his instructions when he was first waved into the Pacific game. “The coach sent me in and said, ‘Just hold the ball, just protect the ball,’ ” Faulk says. “The first five or six carries, I was getting seven, eight yards a run and I’m still worrying about holding onto the ball. So I decided just to let loose and the next time up, I go for a 61-yard touchdown.
“I started thinking, ‘I think I got this hold-onto-the-ball part down.’ ”
Faulk kept running and didn’t look up until he had surpassed the 300-yard mark late in the third quarter. By then, the Jack Murphy Stadium scoreboard was counting down Faulk’s every advance, and when Faulk finally scanned the numbers, he thought to himself, “That’s a lot for two quarters.”
An NCAA record was his. A starting assignment came three weeks later, when Luginbill could keep him down on the bench no longer and moved Faulk to first team for the Hawaii game. Faulk rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns. The next week, Faulk rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against New Mexico, but didn’t play at all in the second.
Reason: Two cracked ribs and one collapsed lung.
Consequence: No more Faulk for 3 1/2 games.
Faulk couldn’t have picked worse games to miss. He missed two games against 4-7-1 UTEP and 4-6-1 Wyoming, plus that second half against 3-9 New Mexico. He returned to face Colorado State, followed by eventual WAC champion BYU and potential national champion Miami.
Faulk rushed for 174 yards against Colorado State, 118 against BYU and a Heismanesque 154 against Miami.
Yes, what might have been is a very valid question.
“I think about it, if I’d have played the whole year,” Faulk says. “The way I look at it, things don’t always work out right. And the injury did one good thing--it made me realize, ‘Hey, I can get hit, too.’ Before, I thought I couldn’t be sidelined unless the coach pulled me out of there.
“It made me realize that I’m not a Superman.”
Truncated as it was, Faulk’s 1991 season earned him a berth on the AP All-American first team--a first for San Diego State--and ninth place in the Heisman Trophy voting. The only freshman who ever finished higher was Herschel Walker, who placed third in 1980.
And with one final game left on the ’91 schedule--tonight’s Freedom Bowl against Tulsa--Faulk is already being touted for Heisman ’92. It says so, right on the black-and-red cover of San Diego’s postseason media guide, right beneath Faulk’s onrushing cleated feet.
Faulk is not impressed. Not yet.
“The Heisman is a popularity thing,” he says. “It all depends on how much you play on TV. “Now, I’m not going to knock Desmond Howard. He’s a great player. But everybody doesn’t get the chance to play all 12 games on TV, at noon on Saturdays when everybody in the country is watching. A lot of great players and great teams get ignored.
“Look at Tulsa. They beat the SWC champion (Texas A&M;) and they have to send around a (highlight) tape to get into a bowl game? That isn’t fair.”
Prime time? You can have it, Faulk says.
Playing time? Now you’re talking, Faulk says. Just give him that much.
Most likely, Faulk will be able to take care of the rest.