Like having to obey some guy with a whistle. Reese is a former Tennessee State halfback with a mantelpiece for a set of shoulders. He has been a coach and a physical-education teacher since 1969, and he knows precisely when he will retire. "The moment I am no longer in control," he says, "I quit."
Reese isn't going anywhere soon. It is a measure of the respect he earns that on a spring morning his players are in the gym at seven o'clock sharp. For 45 minutes they silently run through plays. "Fundamentals" is what Reese calls these early-morning sessions. While their primary purpose is to teach players the basics of football, these dawn assemblies also satisfy a more elemental requirement for Carver's students. The workouts allow them to fill their bellies. When practice is finished, they can enjoy a state-provided breakfast of grits, sausage, biscuits, juice and milk. "The average household income around here is $7,000 a year," says Reese. "If some of these kids didn't eat breakfast at school, they just wouldn't get breakfast."
Into this structured environment wandered Faulk. It saved him. "After two practices a day, all you wanted to do when you got home was sleep," says Faulk.
"Exactly!" says Reese.
Reese told Faulk—as he told all his players who wanted to go on to college—what he would have to do, what courses he would need to take, what grades he would have to pull. Most college coaches (notably those at Miami, Nebraska and LSU) looked at Faulk and saw a corner-back. He has 4.3 speed in the 40, and in his senior year at Carver, where he played both ways, he intercepted 11 passes, six of which he ran back for touchdowns. Yet Faulk insisted on playing tailback. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne charmed everyone at Carver, including Faulk. But when Faulk visited the Lincoln campus, he was shown video of defensive backs. Scratch Nebraska.
"You want to play running back?" asked Curtis Johnson, a hip young recruiter from San Diego State. No problem. Faulk signed with the Aztecs and was one of eight tailbacks in San Diego State's camp last August, penciled in at fifth string. By the time the season started he was on the second team. Back in New Orleans, Reese was getting weekly updates. "He'd call collect every Wednesday night," says Reese. " 'Coach! I'm fifth string! Coach, I'm fourth string! Coach, I'm second string!' "
To Faulk it was only a matter of time before he would start. He was not impressed by the No. 1 tailback, T.C. Wright, about whom he told Reese, "He can't outrun me, he doesn't have that many moves, he can't outcatch me."
Faulk's assessment was brash but accurate. Though reluctant to start a freshman, Aztec coach Al Luginbill bumped Faulk to the top of the depth chart after only four games. He had no choice. Faulk was minding his business on the sideline during the first period of the game against Pacific when Wright broke a 12-yard run. As he was being tackled, he took a helmet hard in the thigh. He limped for the rest of the series. Faulk jogged onto the field for San Diego State's next series and proceeded to amass 129 yards and score two touchdowns—before the half ended. Opportunity had knocked, and Faulk tore the door off the hinges. On his last carry of the game he broke former Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson's two-year-old single-game rushing record of 377 yards. And he did it with a flourish: a 25-yard touchdown gallop, his seventh TD of the day.
At two the next morning Reese was awakened by a phone call. Would he accept a collect call from Marshall? Before he had a chance to say yes, Faulk commenced yelling hysterically. "I kept asking him, 'Marshall, are you all right? Has something happened? What's wrong?' " says Reese. "It didn't sink in, what he'd done, until after he hung up."
When the San Diego media came calling later that morning, Faulk was blasé about his historic performance. "I'm not going to let it sink in too much," he told the San Diego Tribune. "It's only the second game of the year." That must have been Luginbill's sentiment as well: He didn't get around to starting Faulk until San Diego State's fifth game.