Making the case for Ciatrick Fason

Florida running back Ciatrick Fason may have achieved one of the ultimate individual achievements at his position, a conference rushing title, a tremendous accolade which will go to the Florida junior provided Ole Miss can keep Mississippi State running back Jerious Norwood under 148 yards on Saturday afternoon in the annual Egg Bowl. Nevertheless, Fason should be the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

The rushing title would be a nice accomplishment. Unfortunately, the Rebels rank eleventh in the league in rushing, giving up 196.1 yards per game. Fason's own teammates allowed Norwood to run for 174 yards, including 118 in the fourth quarter, helping thrust him into contention for the title. Norwood also scored the Bulldogs' game-winning 37-yard touchdown run against the Gators, securing him the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week Award. Short of an injury, it's hard to imagine that Ole Miss will keep the talented Norwood in check.

Regardless, there is no question that Fason is a first team 2004 All-SEC running back and seemingly, the odds on favorite as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. His competition would likely be Auburn's Cadillac Williams and Jason Campbell, Georgia's David Greene, Arkansas' Matt Jones, Norwood, and Gator teammate Chris Leak.

Fason currently ranks twentieth in the nation with 1173 yards on 205 carries (5.7) and 10 rushing touchdowns. His significant contributions to the Florida program don't end there. There are two other tremendous accolades that I attribute to Ciatrick Fason. First of all, Fason puts his loyalty to team and coaches first. You hear that all of the time, right? Well, Fason is the epitome of teammate. He brings it every time he takes the podium on media day. He doesn't thump his chest like the overrated, overpaid Leon in the Budweiser beer commercials. Fason credits his teammates with no nonsense, genuine praises of gratitude and admiration. Furthermore, he is extremely well liked, having earned the respect of his linemen. I have listened to Mike Degory and Lance Butler speak glowingly of Fason for his efforts on and off of the field. They openly admit that the O-Line wanted Fason to win the league rushing title because they felt he deserved it.

Secondly, Ciatrick Fason is a complete player. He is not a role player. Florida's coaches don't have to worry about his presence as regards to down and distance. He is Florida's third leading receiver, hauling in 31 passes for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Fason's 20.5 yard receiving average per game is third among SEC backs with 100 or more carries. Only Auburn's Ronnie Brown (25.5) and LSU's Joseph Addai (23.1) average more. However, neither has hauled in a touchdown reception ala Fason versus South Carolina. League rushing contender Jerious Norwood averages just 3.7 yards per game receiving.

He has also demonstrated the ability to block as well. Fason doesn't struggle picking up the blitz, nor does he brush-block a defender in hopes of saving his body, so that he can live to play another day. Fason lays it out there. He will never shy away from sticking his helmet in some linebacker's chest.

Finally, one aspect of the game lost on so many backs is the ability to sell out the play action, a Fason trademark. Fason has fooled several would-be tacklers and taken their best shot in an effort to give Leak and the receivers an upper hand on linebackers and safeties who have bit on the fake. Heck, he's even fooled a few corners into taking a pause or stutter step allowing Florida's speedy receivers to distance themselves from the coverage.

Aside, from his rushing and receiving numbers is additional proof that Fason is well-deserving of the award. Fason trails only Auburn's Cadillac Williams in all purpose yardage with 127.2 yards per game. Unlike Williams, Fason has not attempted any punt or kickoff returns. Williams adds 338 yards in returns to his 135.4 average.

Here are some of the more important numbers for C4:

1. Leading rusher in the SEC, number 20 in the nation (106.6 yards per game)
2. Second in all-purpose yardage (127.2) behind Cadillac Williams
3. 12 touchdowns, tied with Cadillac Williams for SEC lead
4. 20.5 yard reception average, third best among starting SEC backs.
5. 5.7 per carry average tops among SEC backs with 135 carries or more

Fason averages 5.7 yards per carry, which is third best among the top ten rushers in the conference. However, the top two (Ronnie Brown and Cedric Houston) have significantly fewer carries (123/133) than Fason.

He has 12 touchdowns in 2004, which ties him for the most in the conference with Auburn's Williams, who in my opinion, should be the runner-up for this award. Williams has terrific numbers, but barely eclipsed the vaunted 1000-yard club, by a mere four yards. Williams will contend for a league and possible National Championship title helping lead Auburn to an undefeated record. Team records usually help elevate a player to claim individual awards. But, in '04 there is one deserving of this title, and Ciatrick Fason should be the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

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