INDIANAPOLIS -- At age 20, Marshall Faulk is a victim of his success. He became such a dominating college running back that other teams deemed it a success not necessarily to beat his San Diego State team, but to hold him to 100 yards.
The public was just as unreasonable. If he ran for 200 yards in a game, so what? He had done it before. If defenses put everyone except the safeties on the line of scrimmage and held him to 100 yards, he was deemed a failure. A three-time All-American, a runner for the ages, but still a failure.
So Faulk did the only thing he could do to retain sanity and pride. He said enough was enough, and he ended his college career after three years. He declared himself eligible for April's NFL draft, and he spent last weekend here at the NFL's annual combine testing program. Even though he bypassed the on-field drills, he underwent psychological and intelligence tests and endless interviews with teams.
"I've had a lot of poking and attention," he said. "It's part of getting into the NFL I don't mind. Very few get in and too few stay in."
To say that Faulk will get in is an understatement. At the moment, and highly subject to change, the Cincinnati Bengals, with the first choice overall in the draft, seem likely to take Dan Wilkinson, the Ohio State defensive tackle. The Indianapolis Colts, with the second pick, would then take Faulk. Or the Bengals, with a heavy-duty but non-explosive runner in Harold Green, might take Faulk.
L "Being chosen No. 1 would mean a lot to anyone," Faulk said.
What if he was picked second or third?
"I'll be satisfied just to get in the NFL," he said.
And satisfied to get away from the unreality of college football. The unreality began in the second game of his freshman season, against the University of Pacific, when he rushed 37 times for 386 yards and seven touchdowns. His season total of 1,429 yards in nine games made him the first freshman to lead the nation in rushing.
As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,630 yards in 10 games, leading the nation again, and never mind the strained ligament in his right knee. Last fall, as a junior, he slipped, if that is the word, to 1,530 yards in 12 games. Although he rushed for 21 touchdowns, critics kept pointing to games in which inadequate blocking against massed defenses kept him bottled up much of the time.
"I don't think many quarterbacks threw for that many touchdowns," he said. "I think I had a pretty decent season. I'm happy with it. But we set team goals, we wanted to win the conference championship and we didn't."
So after three seasons, Faulk had 4,589 yards rushing, a 148-yard average and 62 total touchdowns, second only to 65 by Anthony Thompson of Indiana.
"The college game wasn't fun anymore," he said, "not with having to face the eight- and nine-man lines, not with people gearing up to stop you every game. It sort of takes away from the game when people start doing that. I was still able to do things -- I wasn't totally shut down -- but it got to be pretty difficult to deal with.
"People wanted to get hits on me and be sure I remembered. It was so frustrating that at times, teammates had to calm me down."
There was another factor. After San Diego State's 6-6 season, coach Al Luginbill was dismissed and replaced by Ted Tollner.
"The coaching change made it sort of easy for me," Faulk said. "I came in with those coaches who were leaving, and I didn't want to go through that with new coaches. Before my announcement, I told Coach Tollner I was leaving. He didn't ask me to stay. He respected my decision."
So now Faulk takes his 5 feet 10 inches, 200 pounds and explosive speed to the pros. As always, he is supremely confident.
"I don't know how to describe myself," he said. "I can't say I'm a slasher or a speedster. I just run the ball. I've been through games when I had 60 yards and I've been through games when I had 300 yards. I think I'm a pretty darn good running back. I handle myself pretty good out there."