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Survival of the fittest

A lifetime of running hard has made Faulk a powerful presence

FOXBOROUGH -- His style is often described as change of pace, but once the complete picture comes into focus, only one word captures the man: power.

Running back Kevin Faulk is one of the Patriots' most productive players on a per-play basis. There are the sharp cuts on the field, the way he slips through the smallest creases with a sudden burst. Then there's the smoothness of his pass patterns, the coolness in the two-minute drill.

Nothing in that repertoire, or in his 5-foot-8-inch, 202-pound frame, says ''power."

But then listen to his wife, Latisha, and his cousin, Ed Cormier. They'll talk about Faulk's power, how he's been running hard since the first day they met him.

''He's always getting over those obstacles," says Latisha. ''He just doesn't let anything hold him back."

Cormier says simply: ''He always comes up clutch. Any situation."

Last Saturday's wild-card playoff victory over the Jaguars was the latest example of the 29-year-old Faulk rising up in a clutch moment. He finished with a team-high 51 rushing yards on six carries and added 45 yards on four receptions, a performance that reflects his many skills. Over his seven-year career, all spent with the Patriots, Faulk has totaled 2,275 rushing yards and 2,079 receiving yards. He's had at least 40 rushes and 25 receptions in each of the last six seasons.

They aren't the type of numbers associated with a power back. But then again, that's only half the story. When Faulk considers his journey to this point, he can think of only word: survival. Latisha, who started dating Faulk in high school and married him in March 2000, said the word fits.

''He's been through so much, yet he's always overcoming everything."

Finding inner strength

After missing eight games with a foot injury, Faulk returned to the Patriots' lineup Dec. 4 against the Jets. His foot was fine, but he was playing with a heavy heart; his 23-month-old nephew Trevion had died unexpectedly the day before. Faulk and Latisha had been caring for Trevion for more than a year and ''considered him one of our own." They aren't comfortable discussing Trevion's death publicly.

Faulk left the team in the week leading up to the next game, against the Bills, because he was relied upon to help make funeral arrangements. The time away didn't hurt his performance in Buffalo. He ended up with six receptions for a season-high 71 yards in a resounding 35-7 win.

The power back was back.

Latisha has seen similar occurrences, her husband's resolve growing stronger with each obstacle in his path. In Faulk's college years at Louisiana State, Latisha had a miscarriage. When Faulk was 10, his brother Gerald was stabbed to death in a random act of violence. In September 2004, Faulk's mother, Vivian, lost her battle with leukemia.

''You have those things happen, they continue happening, a lot of people I know wouldn't be able to carry on," says Cormier, who has lived with the Faulks for the last six years. ''To continue on, it takes a strong person. I've witnessed his struggle, and his strength."

Faulk, who grew up in Carencro, La., said he learned how to cope from his mother.

''I saw her go through so much when I was young," he remembers. ''Scrambling to pay bills, scrambling to keep our lights on; one time she asked me to sleep at a friend's house because our lights might be cut off. I saw it all and it never broke her. Never. She always figured out a way to make sure we had what we had to get during the course of our lives."

Now, he does the same for his family. His heart is oversized when it comes to those in his inner circle.

''Those are the people I'd do anything for," he said. ''If I have it, and you don't have it, I'm going to make sure you have it. That's the way my mom brought me up. My mom was the closest thing to me besides my heart. She was my heart. I think taking that hit really hurt, but at the same time, it really helped me to grow older and mature a lot quicker."

Faulk also learned that just as a running back needs an offensive line, he needs the love and support of others in his life. He points to his current situation, as Latisha has moved home to Louisiana following the death of Faulk's nephew. She's taking care of the couple's three children (Tanasha, Kevin III, and Kevione) as well as Kevin's sister's two children.

Faulk couldn't imagine being alone at this time, which is why he's thankful to have Cormier living with him. Another friend, from LSU, is also living in the house.

''Without them, I don't know where I'd be," he said.

They say the same thing about him.

''I've watched him grow immensely the last two years -- from his patience, to his actions, to his reactions," Cormier said. ''He has a strong mind, a strong head to deal with what he's dealt with."

In it for the long haul
Faulk also has been a survivor on the field.

Selected in the second round of the 1999 draft, he's the only player from that Patriot class still on the roster, outlasting first-round picks Damien Woody and Andy Katzenmoyer, as well as five others.

Faulk was one of 17 running backs selected that year, and he's outlasted most of them, too. Only Edgerrin James (first round, Colts) is still with the team that drafted him, while others -- such as fellow second-round picks Joe Montgomery, Michael Cloud, and Jermaine Fazande -- have either bounced around or are out of the NFL.

''When I look at that list, I see a lot good running backs," said Faulk, scanning the 17 names, which also include Ricky Williams, Shawn Bryson, Amos Zereoue, and Olandis Gary. ''It makes me feel good that I got into a good situation. Going into the NFL is all about situations and making the best of it. I came up here and it was different for me in a lot of ways. But I just made the best of it, adapted, and was able to find a role on the team.

''When I first came into the league, it was more about reaching your goal, getting to where you want to be when you were younger. The first couple years it was more about, 'OK, I'm here, that's it, I don't need to work hard anymore.' No. You have to work just as hard to stay in it, just as hard as you were when you were trying to get here. I think that's what I've learned from being in the league for seven years. You're not promised to be on the same team next year. Talent comes in and situations change."

He arrived the year before Bill Belichick was named head coach, the Bobby Grier-led regime selecting Faulk with the idea that he'd be a nice mix-up to starter Terry Allen, who was more of a straight-line runner. Seven years later, Faulk fills a similar role with Corey Dillon, although he's playing at a much higher level.

Fellow running back Patrick Pass said he's watched Faulk since his high school days and marvels at his pass-catching ability. ''He's like having a receiver in the backfield," Pass said.

Faulk, used primarily as a third-down back, said the biggest difference he sees in his performance is that he's smarter as a result of his experience. He's also mentally tougher, which is partially a result of accepting his role.

''I've never worried about how they use me or how much playing time I'm going to get in a week," he said. ''My agent [Raymond Brothers] is the one who got that point across to me, saying it doesn't matter how much time you get, but that it's how productive you are when you get into the game. How ready are you? It's so easy when you're not playing as much as you did in college to sit down and pout about how your playing time is diminished, that you should be playing. All you're doing is wasting time.

''I think I said it perfectly on Saturday night. The best feeling on game day is that when you're in a tight situation, or a game-changing situation, your teammates and coaches have confidence in you to make a play in that situation."

Game provides comfort
Earlier this week, Faulk stopped a conversation and looked at his surroundings at Gillette Stadium. What he saw was a spacious locker room, filled with mahogany lockers, flanked by a large weight room and top-of-the-line meeting rooms. Then he considered his journey to this point and shook his head.

''I think to myself, 'Man, you've got it made right now,' " he said. ''This is the penthouse right now for me compared to what I used to be in. It keeps me grounded."

While those reminders of his past keep him humble, Faulk said the presence of teammates such as receiver Andre' Davis and linebackers Don Davis and Rosevelt Colvin have helped in a spiritual sense.

''Those guys have kept me going, kept me striving," he said. ''That's what I've been stressing to my family, that there are always tests in life, and that's when you see how strong your faith really is."

Faulk's faith has been tested several times over, which is why Cormier agreed that survivor is the best word to describe his cousin. But if not for football, Faulk isn't sure he would have been able to overcome the adversity. He calls the game his anchor. Without it, and his family's love, he can't imagine where he'd be today.

''You learn how to deal with a lot of tribulations through football," he said. ''How you react to it is what makes you a better person or a weaker person."

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