With the same daring nature one must possess to become the country’s best high school lacrosse player while growing up in Utah, Cole “Bubba” Fairman charged toward the sideline after scoring in the Under Armour All-America Boys Lacrosse Game.
His friend, Elliott, stood in Fairman’s path with his back turned.
The two had decided over ice cream that July 1 afternoon that Fairman’s second score would be code for an RKO, a legendary wrestling move named after WWE star Randy Keith Orton. They rehearsed it, though not at full speed, in the locker room.
So, with flashes of the toughness, intensity and spirit that propelled Fairman to become Inside Lacrosse’s No. 1 overall recruit, the gem of Maryland’s 2017 class, he wrapped his arms around Elliott’s neck and tackled him.
As they hit the ground, another friend lay down as a mock referee and declared Fairman the victor.
Fairman’s dad, Jay, watching from Utah, had one thought: “That’s Bubba.”
Fairman and his older brothers, Elias and Luke, loved baseball as kids. Their single dad, who grew up playing lacrosse in Massachusetts, had another idea. When Fairman was in fourth grade, the four had a talk.
“I said I’d never make you play a sport,” Jay told them. “Guess what? I lied. You’re going to stop baseball for one year.”
After his first lacrosse game, Fairman made his own declaration.
“We’ve got to have a yard sale,” he said. “Sell all our baseball equipment and get some new lacrosse stuff.”
Because their area’s league for the East Coast-centric sport didn’t think it had interest from enough kids to field a full team in Fairman’s age group, Jay used his little league football connections to generate participation. He called and visited families, persuading enough boys to try the sport and fill two squads.
In the championship that year, Jay thought his efforts paid off when Fairman ran down the field and tied the game late with a behind-the-back shot.
Afterward, Fairman explained he wasn’t “hot-dogging.” The goalie had stuffed him a few times, so he wanted to try a trick.
“Right then, I knew,” Jay said. “This kid’s pretty smart.”
The work, Jay soon realized, had just begun to mold his son, the one who garnered his nickname after weighing 13 pounds at birth with cheeks rolling over his chin, into a college prospect.
Fairman learned to be fearless when his dad put him on Luke’s team against players two years older.
He was scared of the “big kids” until, Fairman remembered, his dad took the three to the field behind their house one night and let Elias, four years older, and Luke play him tough “just so I wasn’t scared of anybody else.”
He developed tenacity when Jay staged a similar showdown inside his wood shop, a 5,000-square-foot space they cleared out when it snowed to continue practicing.
They ran a drill when Fairman was about 10, each brother dodging the others before shooting. Fairman tested Elias but instead fell to the concrete, cut his knee and cried.
“He got up,” Jay said, “and the little guy went back and went 100 percent.”
Fairman honed his skills with “Lefty Lacrosse Sundays,” when the brothers would play wall-ball for hours without their right hands touching their sticks. And his dad made homework rotations, during which two brothers worked inside on assignments after school while the other shot on his rebounder for 45 minutes. Then they’d switch.
That built the foundation for Fairman to follow his brothers onto the Brighton High School team. But after his sophomore year, he opted for a new challenge.
He moved to The Calverton School in Huntingtown as a junior to test his balance of academics with lacrosse in one of the sport’s hotbeds.
“OK, Bubba, you’re good in Utah, but this would be the deciding factor,” Jay said. “How good are you?”
While helping win the Metropolitan Independent Lacrosse League championship and facing some of the top private schools in the area, Fairman become junior class president and joined the golf team, though he’d never tried the sport before.
He had committed to Navy, the only Division I school that steadily recruited him, but in the summer of 2015, Fairman decided against a regimented college experience. So, he switched his pledge to Maryland after coach John Tillman scouted him in the Under Armour All-America underclass tournament before his senior year.
“When Bubba was younger, we’re watching the final four and the championship games, and Maryland was Bubba’s team,” Jay said. “That was like his dream.”
To achieve it, Fairman reclassified to the 2017 recruiting class because his commitment was late and the Terps had filled their 2016 scholarships.
Before spending that postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, Fairman returned to Brighton — where coach Gerrit Schafrath said the Fairmans are dubbed the “first family of lacrosse” — flashing the polish and confidence he gained in boarding school.
During one game, he had trouble scoring in the first quarter, piping some shots and sending others wide, so Schafrath told him to “be an assist guy.” Fairman dished nine.
In another, Fairman filled in for an injured midfielder and emerged as one of the team’s best defenders.
“He doesn’t take failure too hard. He rebounds pretty quick. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s got a positive attitude,” Schafrath said. “I really think Bubba has it all.”
Those defensive midfield runs were similar to the role Fairman had as Utah’s first participant in the Under Armour All-America Game. He also scored twice and fielded four ground balls as a faceoff wing, capping a week of acclimating to the area that will become his latest lacrosse home in the fall.
Fairman attended a two-day orientation at Maryland before the festivities began, touring the campus, choosing classes in math, accounting, psychology and English, and participating in an evening event at the pool, gym and climbing wall.
His weekend ended with a text from Tillman.
After Fairman’s takedown move went viral on social media, the coach made a suggestion.
“He just said, ‘Our wrestling coach wants to talk to you about playing next year,’ ” Fairman remembered, “so I think he appreciated it.”