NOTE: This is the last of five features on the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2006 which will be inducted on July 10, 2006.
by Will Stafford
LSU Sports Information
It was a run that Kevin Faulk had made countless times in his All-American career as an LSU Tiger, but this one drew a standing ovation from the more than 80,000 fans packed into Tiger Stadium on the night of Oct. 24, 1998.
With the Tigers holding a commanding 21-0 lead over Mississippi State and the ball resting at their own 30-yard line, the senior tailback from Carencro took the handoff on the first play from scrimmage of the second half and raced 27 yards into history.
All it took was one burst to eclipse both Charles Alexander and Dalton Hilliard on the school’s all-time rushing list. Faulk finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in the 41-6 victory, giving him 4,079 rushing yards for his career and surpassing the old mark of 4,050 yards set by Hilliard in 1985.
He displayed his versatility by adding 30 receiving and 55 return yards in the game to become just the 11th player in NCAA history to amass 6,000 all-purpose yards for a career.
Faulk forever etched his name in the LSU record books with 4,557 yards and 46 touchdowns in his career, both of which rank second on the all-time rushing list in the Southeastern Conference behind Georgia’s Hershel Walker. His 6,833 career all-purpose yards and 53 total touchdowns are SEC records that may never be broken.
“I didn’t go to LSU thinking that I would be the all-time rushing leader or anything like that,” Faulk said. “It’s great, but records like that aren’t all about what I did. My offensive line and the guys around me had as much to do with the records as me running the football.
“I had a lot of yards in my career, but all I tried to do was just hit the hole every time I touched the ball. I was able to do that a lot.”
Success-starved fans expected nothing less from Faulk when he signed to play for the Tigers prior to the 1995 season as the most highly recruited running back prospect in the nation.
College recruiters across the country had known about the 5-foot-8, 195-pound flash of lightning from Carencro High School since he led the Bears to the Class 5A state title as a sophomore in 1992 and was named the championship game’s Most Valuable Player after rushing for 259 yards and four touchdowns.
Notre Dame’s head coach Lou Holtz even remarked after witnessing Faulk’s domination in the 28-27 overtime victory over Neville High School that “He could play for us now!”
Faulk’s high school career is as decorated and as celebrated as any in the history of the state. The high school quarterback accounted for 7,612 total yards and 89 touchdowns in his four years at Carencro, becoming the first player since Shreveport’s Joe Ferguson in 1968-69 to be a two-time Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year.
He received the Bobby Dodd Award as the nation’s top offensive player as a senior and was named a high school All-American by such organizations as Parade, USA Today and ESPN.
When Faulk scheduled a press conference to announce his college decision, fans in Baton Rouge were unsure if he would make the 60-mile trip east on Interstate 10 and continue his career at LSU or travel out of state to play for a perennial national title contender like Florida, Florida State, Miami or Notre Dame.
The Tigers had suffered through six straight losing seasons, culminating with the firing of Curley Hallman following the 1994 season. Newly appointed head coach Gerry DiNardo made it his top priority to visit with Faulk immediately following his inaugural press conference on Dec. 12 of that year.
DiNardo made a lasting impression on the superstar, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Faulk erased any doubt of his allegiance by wearing a purple and gold LSU windbreaker and matching cap to the press conference at Pete’s Bar and Grill in Lafayette. With his mother, Vivian, at his side, he read from a prepared statement to a standing room only crowd of more than 200 fans, “As you all know, I have decided to spend the next four years at LSU.”
The signing of Faulk in February 1995 was DiNardo’s first step in bringing back the magic to a once proud LSU football program that had not been to a bowl game in six years.
Of all the big games and individual performances, highlights and accolades accumulated during the course of his career, Faulk points to that first season as being his most memorable experience in an LSU uniform.
“There were a lot of things that were memorable for me – beating Florida in 1997 and games like that,” Faulk said. “But that whole season really sticks out to me and is memorable with the whole ‘Bring Back the Magic’ thing.
“It feels good to know that I came at a time that helped turn the program around. It was just that whole team that was a big part of that. We had a new coaching staff, new players and we all just bought into it and had a great season. It was a lot of fun.”
Faulk teamed with fellow freshman tailback Kendall Cleveland in a “Thunder and Lightning” running attack that guided the Tigers to a 7-4-1 record and their first bowl victory since defeating eighth-ranked South Carolina in the 1987 Gator Bowl.
Faulk was named the 1995 Independence Bowl Offensive MVP after rushing for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 45-26 victory over future LSU head coach Nick Saban and the Spartans of Michigan State.
Though his performance against Michigan State displayed the unlimited potential he possessed, Faulk’s heroics in the opening game of the 1996 season against Houston cemented him as one of the top all-purpose backs in the nation and a threat to score every time he touched the football.
LSU trailed the Cougars by the score of 34-14 just seconds into the fourth quarter when Faulk fielded a punt on his own 22-yard line and raced 78 yards for his third score of the ballgame. This ignited a 21-point fourth quarter barrage by the Tigers and a 35-34 victory before a sellout crowd.
Faulk finished the game with a school record 246 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while adding 106 yards and a score on four punt returns for perhaps the greatest all-around performance in school history. It was a performance that led former LSU All-American running back Charles Alexander to remark, “They’d better get ready to put him in the Heisman race.”
Alexander set the previous single-game rushing record with 237 yards against Oregon in 1977.
Faulk didn’t win the Heisman Trophy in 1996, but he was named an Associated Press First-Team All-American as a return specialist and a First-Team All-SEC member by both the AP and the conference coaches. He capped his collegiate career in 1998 as one of the most decorated Tigers to ever wear the uniform as a three-time All-American and All-SEC selection.
He also guided the Tigers to three straight bowl victories from 1995-97, including a 10-7 win over Clemson in the 1996 Peach Bowl and a 27-9 rout of Notre Dame in the 1997 Independence Bowl. This marked the first time the Tigers had accomplished this feat since 1966-68.
Despite not winning a championship in his four years in Baton Rouge, Faulk has won three Super Bowl titles in seven years as a member of the New England Patriots – an organization that drafted him with the 46th overall pick in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft.
Faulk believes the success he experienced at LSU has helped prepare him for his role as an all-purpose star in New England. He has rushed for 2,275 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career and is the Patriots’ all-time kickoff return leader with 3,507 yards and two scores.
“What I experienced at LSU has definitely helped me with the success I’ve had with the Patriots and being the football player that I am,” Faulk said. “When I sit back and think about the things I’ve been able to do in my life, I know I’m just blessed to have had the opportunity to play football at LSU and here in New England.
“It’s ironic that New England is just like LSU to me. We have some great fans and have always had success since I’ve been here. It’s also great to be able to play with a lot of LSU guys. It’s just a great place to play football.”
Fans and teammates will always remember Faulk for his exploits on the football field, and his name will be forever mentioned among the LSU greats as he is inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday. This is a testament to having one of the most memorable careers in an LSU uniform and is something he said he can be proud of for the rest of his life.
“It means a whole lot to me, personally, to be inducted (into the Hall of Fame),” Faulk said. “It’s something that I can be proud of and know that I had a great career at LSU. It’s an honor to have my name with all of the great players that LSU has had.
“I’m just happy to be a part of the history of LSU football. When I stepped out onto the field, I tried to play the game the best I could 100 percent all the time. I want to be remembered for that more than anything in my career. That’s what I’m most proud of.”