Close encounters w/Bam convinced C-4 to be elusive

Back when he was a 175-pound ninth grade tailback at Jacksonville Beach Fletcher, Ciatrick Fason fashioned himself as a power back, ready to stick a shoulder in the chest of anyone who stood in his way. It only took one close encounter with future Gator linebacker Byron "Bam" Hardmon of Ed White High School to convince C4 that it was time to re-evaluate what he was doing.

"I tried to run right over him and he put me out of the game," Fason recalled Tuesday at Florida's media day as the Gators shift their focus off a win over Kentucky to Saturday's game at The Swamp against Arkansas. "I weighed probably 175 and he weighed 220. I knew I had to have a different style after that."

The following week, Fason began a total makeover of his running style. He watched tapes of backs in the NFL, deciding that elusive and clear-headed is 100 percent better than getting your bell rung trying to be a power back. The transition went smoothly and now he admits there is a little bit of Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson in the way he sets up tacklers then makes them miss. His feet seem to go one way, his hips the other, and no one ever seems to get a good hit on him. Through three weeks of the season, he's leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 396 yards and he is coming off a 210-yard effort against Kentucky that ranks among the five best rushing performances in school history.

The elusive style he's adapted is what Gator linebacker Channing Crowder as "squirmy wormy" and it's so exciting that he admits Florida defensive players find themselves sneaking a look over at the Jumbo-Tron during the game to watch the instant replays.

"You never know what he's going to do next," said Crowder.

Wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius says blocking downfield for C4 is both fun and a headache at the same time.

"Oh man, he crossed me up. [against Kentucky] He caught a screen, started off right and then wheeled back to the left," said Cornelius. "I didn't know what to do with my man because I didn't know what he [Fason] was going to do. When he's got the ball, you expect the unexpected and you keep blocking downfield because you know he might just take it all the way."

Crowder understands how frustrating it can be to tackle Fason, who seems to instinctively shift his body at the point of impact so that he never gets the full force of a tackler's best shot.

"I've played with him three years now and I think I've gotten something like one good shot on him down at the goal line once," said Crowder, recalling a hit he put on Fason at the goal line in the spring of 2003. "People get all loaded up and then they get frustrated trying to kill him and they're left there grabbing air."

Fason says he does his best to avoid big hits, but even if someone does pop him, he laughs it off.

"Sometimes they try too hard to hit me and I just take that to my advantage because I don't have to do too much to make them miss," he said. "But if they do hit me hard I laugh. I'm just out there having fun. If I'm down at the bottom of the pile, you'll hear me laughing because I'm just having fun."

Quarterback Chris Leak usually sees Fason from the back side. He will hand the ball or toss it to Fason, then he watches as the hole opens up, but he notes that Fason doesn't always need a hole to make something happen.

"If the hole's not there, he can break tackles, too," said Leak. "He's an exciting back to watch because if there's nothing there, he can make something. Not many people can do that."

The dimension Fason adds to the running game opens the passing game up for Leak. The threat of Fason running the ball freezes linebackers and safeties, giving Leak an extra split second to throw the ball after a play action fake.

"He keeps the defense honest and balanced," said Leak. "He adds another dimension to what we're doing. It's really going to help us out a lot down the road."

Center Mike Degory says Fason is more than just a standout runner. He has become a real leader on the team.

"His leadership is one thing; more people listen to him," said Degory. "He's taken it on his shoulders to lead us."

Count Degory as an admirer of Fason's elusive style.

"I think Channing (Crowder) says it best," said Degory. "It looks like he doesn't have a backbone. He can really bend and twist. He's one of those guys where you rarely see them fall back. He's always falling forwards and that's an extra one or two yards that goes on every carry."

Fason just takes it all in stride. He smiled when told that Crowder said "Ciatrick got 200 yards and now he's looking this week to get 300."

"Nah, it's not like that, I'm just going for the victory," said Fason. "I'm not worried about the stats. One big game doesn't mean nothing. I'm I'm just happy we got a win. I just want to do whatever it takes to get the win against Arkansas. Getting the victory, that's what it's all about."

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