Fason Faking Out Opposition

FAYETTEVILLE -- Byron "Bam" Hardmon helped make Ceatrick Fason the runner he is today.

Fason, a 6-foot, 202-pound junior tailback for Florida coming off a career-high 210 yards against Kentucky last Saturday, was bigger than his classmates and used to run over the competition in middle school.

Then he began his freshman year in 1998 by taking on Hardmon, a senior linebacker on his way to the Gators the next season.

"I tried to run him over and he put me out the game," Fason said. "I had to come up with a new style and it carried over through high school up 'til here. I was 175 and he was like 220. I tried to run straight over the top of him.

"It didn't work."

Hardmon's shot to Fason's ribs was a lasting lesson for the Southeastern Conference's current leading rusher.

Fason has gained 417 yards on 62 attempts through three games, a 6.4-yards per carry average. He's gaining 132 yards per game and has 3 touchdowns, including a 46-yard romp against Kentucky when he broke six or seven tackles en route to the end zone.

His teammates say he is so wiggly, it's like he doesn't have a backbone.

"He is just all squirmy and wormy and just moves around in different ways and turning sideways," said linebacker Channing Crowder. "I don't know how he does it, but he does it and he's successful at it.

"He's not going to run you over. He's just so quick and he's juking out guys."

No one can claim a good shot on him in practice and even fewer opponents can say they got a lick on him in a game.

He avoids contact as much to protect himself as his ego.

"I don't want to be a part of nobody's highlight tape," he said. "That's just why I don't like big hits.

"Hits don't hurt. Just the highlight films."

In that case, Arkansas must have been in agony watching the game tape of last year's 33-28 loss in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks barely got a finger on Fason last year when he had a 75-yard touchdown burst and took a screen pass up the sideline 33 yards for another score.

His 210-yard effort against UK was the first 200-plus effort for Florida since Emmitt Smith gained 316 against New Mexico in 1989.

Fason is running so well and Arkansas' rushing defense has been so porous -- allowing 271 ground yards to Alabama and 259 to Texas -- that there's talk around Gainesville about another 300-yard game when Arkansas meets the Gators in The Swamp on Saturday.

Fason isn't the one starting that kind of talk, though.

"I had one big game," he said. "If we would have lost, it wouldn't have made any difference. I'm just happy we got a win. It doesn't matter if I have 80 or 200.

"I'm just going for a victory. It's not about me. It's about the team."

Fason's team-first attitude is a change from last year when he didn't log a carry against Kentucky, skipped a practice, was suspended the next week against Ole Miss and told coach Ron Zook he wanted to transfer to another school.

Zook, a hard-nosed former player who once told Gator Taylor Jacobs to move out of the way and started throwing up 330-pound reps on the bench press while wearing slacks and a collared shirt, wasn't having any of Fason's talk.

"Coach Zook said that we could fight right there in the office and we would be there all day, but he said I wasn't going anywhere," Fason said. "He just hoped that I brought my lunch pail."

Fason and Zook didn't go any rounds, but they mended fences fast enough for Fason to light up Arkansas two weeks later in his first career start.

"I've been thinking about that," Fason said. "If I had left, I'd be sitting somewhere waiting for next year instead of doing what I'm doing now and helping the team win. I'm glad I didn't leave and I'm glad that situation came up because it made me a better person."

By all accounts, Fason is a favorite among his teammates with a mouth that runs faster than he does and is just as unstoppable.

"I'm a talker," he said. "If you give me an opportunity to talk, I'm going to say something. I'm going to talk until someone stops me. I'll talk about anything. You can talk about some old people, you can talk about animals, you can talk about anything and I'll talk about it."

Fason walks around with a bounce in his step most would call a strut. He loves practice and even laughs when he gets dogpiled.

"If I make someone miss, I'm going to laugh," he said. "If they hit me hard, I'm going to laugh. They'll tell you when I'm down at the bottom of the pile I'm down there laughing and having fun."

Fason is the only one having fun on gamedays.

His style is particularly frustrating to would-be tacklers who miss, grab air and make the mistake of trying even harder on the next play.

That plays right into Fason's hands.

"They try even harder to make a tackle on the next play and that's to my advantage because sometimes they try too hard and I don't have to do as much," he said. "I can just do a little move."

Crowder said he's a distraction to the Florida defense when it huddles on the sideline between series.

"We're peeking at the replay board every so often," he said. "It's fun to watch. Right now I can tell you what he's thinking, and that's, 'Well, I need to get 300 now.'

"He thinks he's the best and I would say he is."

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