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September 14, 2000 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2000-09-14

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10A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 14, 2000

After a long road back from injury, Justin Fargas marks
another journey with his trip home this Saturday
BY MARK FRANCESCUTTI -DAILY SPORTS EDITOR

ustin Fargas wanted to ride a bike. He had
seen all the other kids speeding along his
street, and now it was his turn.
There was just one problem --- he couldn't
reach the pedals.
But little things like that didn't stop Fargas.
He got on that bike for the first time and
pushed off the wall.
He may have crashed, he may have skinned
his knees, but Fargas wanted to ride, and there
was no way to stop him.
But the ride never quite ended for Fargas. It
was a long climb to the top, especially to the
pomt he is at today. Now a redshirt sophomore,
Fargas' story mimics a comeback prizefighter,
returning to the gridiron after a full season
away from football.
But it wasn't the pigskin that first snared
Fargas' attention. Soccer and baseball kept him
busy during his younger years, and football
never really entered that reality until high
school.
Fargas was small. He wanted to get bigger
and faster, so he gave football a try.
"When he first showed up he was skinny as
a rail," said Notre Dame High School coach
Kevin Rooney, who coached Fargas for three
years. "We all thought there was no way he
would be a good football player."
Fat-gas battled for position on the freshman
team, eventually winning a running back spot
and cruising to several 100-yard games.
"He came in the house and he said to us
This is the greatest!"' Fargas' stepmother
Sandra said. "He's xery serious, very goal-ori-
ct1itd. Once he sets his mind on something he
doesn't stop until he gets it."
Fargas from then on, set his mind on foot-
ball and his target on the varsity tailback job.
Still, he needed even more speed to play on
Notre Dame's top squad. So he joined the track
team, and used what his coach called "God-
given ability" to fast-forward his game.
"I needed to get better for football - that
came from track," Fargas said. "In track,
you're by yourself. There's no excuses."
Notre Dame's competition was still tough.
The team already had a starting tailback, and a
sophomore who played football for one lone
season wasn't going to come in and shake
things up - or so the roaches believed.
"He made varsity, but the first time he car-
ried the ball, he fumbled," Rooney said. "After
that, though, he did extremely well. About
halfway through the season, we realized that
he was the better guy."

And from then on, Fargas was the starter at
tailback, tallying 6,352 yards and 77 touch-
downs in three seasons - all while starting on
the other side of the ball at defensive back.
Fargas was not afraid to try anything.
In one high school game, as defenders came
sprawling at him, Fargas flipped over the
defense, landed on his feet, and ran another 30
yards for a touchdown.
"He had some remarkable games, and some
remarkable plays that just made the coaches
shake their heads (in amazement)," Rooney
said. "He's very determined in the way he
runs. He wouldn't be tackled."
After a successful high school campaign,
including a 100-meter track state champi-
onship, Fargas chose Michigan, shocking
Southern Cal and UCLA - two hometown
schools that strongly courted him. When coach
John Robinson, whom Fargas says he was
"very close to' left Southern Cal, Fargas was
down to two.
"I felt comfortable with him (Robinson),"
Fargas said. "Had he stayed, well, maybe it
would be different" now.
And though the enormous pressure of stay-
ing near his Encino, Cal., home (about 15
minutes away from UCLA) engulfed Fargas,
Michigan offered the academics and football
program he desired, but also the independence
of living on his own.
"Sometimes you have to step out of your
home, so you can grow," Fargas said. "People
(from California) were trying to scare me"
about going to Michigan. They said that my
toe was going to fall off because of the cold.
But Michigan was the perfect fit."
THE UPS AND DOWNS
Coach Lloyd Carr snagged one of the top
running backs in the country in Fargas. And
immediately the freshman wanted to make an
impact.
But once again he was just some small kid,
behind a duo of solid backs in Anthony
Thomas and Clarence Williams.
"We said, 'We need to get him on the t icld,"'
offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told the
Detroit Free Press in early 1998. "We alwavs
knew he could be something special. It was
just a matter of bringing it out."
Carr called him a "fearless" freshman.
"He wasn't afraid to run into anything," Carr
said. "Not many guys can do that."
Fargas finally got his chance on a rainy day

at Northwestern's Ryan Field in 1998.
With Anthony Thomas out suffering from a
leg injury added with Clarence Williams'
inability hold on to the ball, the tides changed
for Fargas in one big wet puddle. Carr inserted
Fargas after Williams fumbled on his third
carry, and the freshman never looked back.
After getting just 15 carries in the first five
games, the 185-pound Fargas sloshed through
the flooded field 31 times for 120 yards,
including a clutch 28-yard kickoff return.
"There isn't any question that we needed a
guy that can run the football aggressively with-
out turning it over," Carr said after the
Northwestern gamie. "From the beginning,
we've been trying to find a tailback that would
run with authority. Based on what Justin did in
that game, it looks like he may be the guy. In
those conditions, that kid showed a lot."
The talk around Ann Arbor became rampant
- Fargas was the future - and the
Northwestern game was just the beginning.
But in fact, it was almost the end.
Snap, crackle, pop. In the final minute of a
27-10 victory over Wisconsin on Nov. 14,
1998, Fargas broke one of the legs that gave
him the gift of football.
The television cameras that day showed a
player wrenching in pain, as his parents
watched from California in horror.
"I said 'Don't put the camera on his face
again!' Sandra Fargas said. "Oh! It sent shivers
down your back to watch."
Football, track - everything Fargas had
worked for was gone in an instant - a promis-
ing beginning coming to a quick end.
What he set his mind to, what lie had
worked for - it wasn't going to happen this
time.
"I had some real low times," Fargas said. "It
was a really difficult time for me."
Fargas went home for awhile to recover fur-
ther, after he bordered on depression in Ann
Arbor.
"It was very difficult to try and tell him it's
going to be alright, especially over the phone."
Sandra said. "We just tried giving him positive
thoughts. You can't hug over the telephone."
If Fargas really wanted to play football
again, it would be a year and a half before he
could ever compete again - a lot of hours of
painful rehab, but better odds than if he dislo-
cated or damaged his knee, which could have
sidelined his speed for his career.
Did he want it? Was he going to do every-
thing to get it? Throughout, Fargas thought of

BRAD QUINN/Daly
Michigan tailback Justin Fargas rushed for 70 yards against Bowling Green two weeks ago after sitting
nut in 1999. He retunms to his native California this weekend when Michigan battles UCLA.

calling it quits.
"He had talked to me about (staying in
California), said Rooney, who visited Fargas
several tiries while he recovered. "The first
thing that kids do when something happens is
they want to (stay) home"
When Fargas returned to Ann Arbor, his
rehab continued on schedule, but so did the
down times. One day, he had enough and went
in to Carr's office.
He said "I'm leaving."
Carr responded in his fatherly way.
"I said to him 'Justin, if you decide to leave,
I will support you, but you're making a big
mistake," Carr said. "He chose Michigan as
well as football, if he could hang in there he
would be able to return."
But would he work for it?
Simple question, simple answer.
"I walked around and I saw my teammates
playing the sport I love," Fargas said. "I want-

ed to get back - (because of) my love for t
game and the fact that I knew I could come
back and do it."
And finally - in just under two years, a
once undersized boy with a burst of talent,
became a stronger, faster man with a sudden
bright future.
"He kinda grew up," Rooney said. "It was
tough he had to wait such a long time, butI i
told him, 'If there's any person who can come
back, it is you."'
Now, Fargas will play in the game he ha*.
circled on his calendar since the beginning o.
his Michigan career.
He returns home to play in front of all of
relatives, friends and coaches this weekend
against UCLA - out their to prove that he is
back and better than ever.
The new Justin Fargas rides again.
And this time, it looks like lie can reach the
pedals.

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