But before he could be given the ball, Justin had to be given a primer on the game. "I was pretty green," he recalls. "I had no idea how to put my helmet on, much less strap it to my chin. I wasn't up on the terminology, either. I knew running back, first down, pass and run, but not the rest of it." He learned. Fast. In his third game on the freshman team, he scored two touchdowns. By Game 10 he had 17.
He opened the next season as the varsity's starting fullback and fumbled the ball away on his very first carry. "I was sure my career was over," he says. "Then I realized I was just wearing too much stuff." So he ripped off his elbow, rib and forearm pads and started over. He ran for 569 yards and nine touchdowns that campaign and didn't drop another ball.
To increase his strength and speed, Justin lifts weights and runs track. In the last 12 months he has raised his best in the bench press from 250 to 315 pounds, and lowered it in the 100 meters from 11.24 to 10.52 seconds. The latter time won him the state title last spring in Sacramento. "I'm always trying to improve," Fargas says. "I want to go faster and farther." Though his muscles have swelled, his head has not. "One of Justin's greatest attributes is his humility," says Antonio. "He's not sucked into the celebrity thing at all."
Once Justin was known as Huggy Bear's cub. These days Huggy Bear is known as Justin's pop. Though Antonio still finds steady work in low-budget films—most recently in last year's Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood—he more often finds himself on Whatever Happened To? lists. One movie Web site even refers to him as "the late" Antonio Fargas. "I feel distinguished by that," he says with barely contained glee. "That and the fact that I was one of the few black actors living in Los Angeles during the 1970s who wasn't in Roots."
Antonio attends most Notre Dame games and many of the team's workouts. When not serving peach cobbler to the Knights as a postpractice treat, he acts as Justin's personal cinematographer, capturing his son's moves on video. He critiques Justin's performances the way a drama coach would a promising prot�g�'s. A few seasons back Antonio noticed that Justin was tipping off plays on which he was to get the ball by tapping his feet during the count. Dad took the son aside and advised: Be an actor. "I told Justin that Method acting is a good tool for faking out the defensive line," Antonio says. "By controlling your emotions, you can disguise your intentions and get into your opponent's head."
To get into character for games, Justin methodically paces the sidelines. "Off the field I'm happy and easygoing," he says. "On the field I turn into an animal. I become as angry and serious as Samuel L. Jackson was in Pulp Fiction. The difference is that he blew people away. I blow through them."
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