Marshall Faulk does seem to hit the ground running. Last Saturday, Faulk, a freshman running back at San Diego State, returned after missing 3½ games with two fractured ribs and promptly rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries in the Aztecs' 42-32 victory over Colorado State.
No other running back has been so successful so soon. Even though his college career is only seven games old, Faulk has forced his way into the NCAA record book. His performance against Colorado State gave him 1,157 yards for the season, allowing him to join former Florida running back Emmitt Smith as the only freshmen in Division I history to reach 1,000 yards in seven games. Faulk almost certainly would have reached the mark sooner had he not suffered the rib injury late in the first half of his sixth game, against New Mexico. At the time he was only 17 yards shy of 1,000.
But he has other records all to himself. Against Pacific in his second game, he ran for 386 yards, an NCAA record, and seven touchdowns, a freshman record, on 37 carries. "It's all happened so fast, my mind feels like it's spinning sometimes," says Faulk. "I think to myself, Seven touchdowns? Did I really do that?"
At 5'10", 180 pounds, Faulk has a quick, darting style that reminds some people of the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders. But few college recruiters saw the similarity when Faulk played several positions at Carver High in New Orleans. Nebraska, Miami, Texas A&M and LSU all wanted to try him at defensive back, but Faulk chose San Diego State largely because assistant coach Curtis Johnson assured him that the Aztecs were interested in him as a running back. "Every once in a while a freshman comes along with the maturity and talent to play right away," says San Diego State coach Al Luginbill. "Marshall's got a lot more maturity than most players I've seen at that age."
Perhaps Faulk, the youngest of six boys, matured so fast because he was in a hurry to escape his New Orleans childhood. He grew up in the Press Park Housing Development, where he was something of a vandal, and he was a disciplinary problem in school. "People didn't have a lot of money, and there were a lot of pretty bad kids," he says. "I was one of them."
Faulk straightened himself out when he discovered he had a future in football. By the time he was a junior in high school, he was living with an older brother; in his senior year he moved in with a classmate. He took odd jobs, including helping the custodian at Carver High, to pay expenses. "Basically, I learned how to take care of myself," says Faulk. "A lot of freshmen have to adjust to being on their own for the first time, but I came here knowing how to look out for myself."
Now opponents have to look out for him.
Though slowed by injury, Faulk is setting a record pace for running backs.