Faulk Patriots’ triple threat
Luck, prayer, and hard work keys
FOXBOROUGH — Luck, prayer, and hard work.
It has taken a combination of those things for Kevin Faulk — the undersized, may-not-survive-physically Kevin Faulk — to endure an NFL career that now, incredibly, is entering its 12th season.
“It can go in any different order,’’ Faulk said yesterday of his three keys to longevity. “Luck, I say that because any time you get drafted it’s all about the team, the system, the organization you go to; praying, that speaks for itself; and just hard work — the work that you put into it is what you’re going to get out of the game.’’
Faulk likely could not have asked for much more during his career. Sure, as the leading rusher in Louisiana State history and the second-leading rusher in SEC annals when he finished his career in 1998, he had designs on being the primary ballcarrier for whichever team drafted him; any player in his situation would have felt the same way.
But he has played in 152 games and counting, now the only player who pre-dates the Bill Belichick era. Faulk enters this season fifth in career rushing in New England’s five-plus decades of existence, has more receptions than any other running back and all but three other pass-catchers, and is the franchise leader in kickoff returns and yardage by a wide margin.
And he has three Super Bowl rings.
He did it by accepting and then embracing the role that was presented to him.
“They said, ‘Look, we’re looking for this type of running back, but we will need this. If you can do this, it would be great,’ ’’ Faulk said of the idea of becoming a third-down specialist. “And it happened that way. It doesn’t happen that way for everyone, but it happened.’’
It was tough at first. The consummate team player, Faulk wants to help in every aspect of the game, and when he was on the bench he felt he wasn’t helping the team.
Yet as the seasons passed, Faulk found ways to help the Patriots, becoming the sort of versatile, reliable performer his friend and mentor Troy Brown was in his years with New England.
The luck of finding the right organization came in handy.
“I bet there have been hundreds, maybe thousands of players who have played, been cut, or quit [over the last 12 years] who have more talent than he does,’’ former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo said yesterday.
DiNardo had just taken over the Tigers when Faulk arrived, a local star who had grown up just 40 miles from campus. He was a father already, with his now-wife Latisha, and he was just different. More mature, more aware of his responsibilities on and off the field.
Faulk started for DiNardo as a true freshman, and the qualities that helped him then have carried him in the dozen years since.
“You probably wouldn’t pick Kevin as the guy who would last that long unless you had 12 years of hindsight,’’ said DiNardo, now an analyst at the Big Ten Network. “First, he’s a very smart player. He picks up concepts quickly, and he knows his job and everyone else’s job. Two, he’s always been a team guy, and the third thing is probably his skill set. He’s always been a good blocker, and you can split him out wide, kick return, punt return. But to me, it is his intelligence.’’
Faulk celebrated his 34th birthday in June, and he has thought about his football mortality in recent years.
He isn’t ready to hang up his pads just yet, however — a fact made clear by his feisty play in a one-on-one drill against linebacker Jerod Mayo on the opening day of camp.
Speaking with David Patten before the receiver announced his own retirement yesterday morning brought it home again: someday, now sooner than later, Faulk’s playing days will end.
“This morning, when we found out, a couple of the guys that have known David, we sat down and talked to him and the conversation was, ‘Hey, I know how you feel; had the same thoughts,’ ’’ Faulk said. “It’s not about, ‘I’m going to retire,’ but when would be the right time? What is the right time? And it’s getting closer. It’s something you think about, but it’s not something that you, how do you say it? It doesn’t weigh heavy on you, but it’s there. It’s in the back of your mind.’’
His three children all call New England home now, and Faulk told a reporter that he could not see himself signing with another team and uprooting his family if the Patriots did not re-sign him (he inked a one-year deal in the spring).
“I can say that: I probably won’t play for another team. If it comes to that point where they say, ‘Hey, look, we had our time with you, we loved the time we had, but it’s time for us to move on, it’s time for you to move on,’ I can accept that. I’ve passed a lot of, not negativity, but the stuff that everybody was talking about with me being small, not going to last, going to get hurt, I’ve done that.
“I’m still loving the game and still playing.’’
Luck, prayer, and hard work paying off.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.