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UF Fason's claims for next year.



Fason vows to carry Gators

[font=Times New Roman,Serif]BY DAVID JONES [/font]
[font=Times New Roman,Serif]FLORIDA TODAY [/font]

[font=Times New Roman,Serif]GAINESVILLE -- In the second half of Florida's embarrassing 37-17 loss to Iowa in January's Outback Bowl, Ciatrick Fason walked the sideline yelling at teammates.

"Next year," the tailback vowed, "this isn't going to happen. Never again!"

Next year starts today, when the Gators begin spring practice. Fason, who rushed for almost 600 yards despite starting in just three games last season, will be a junior in 2004.

He considers this his year to shine. If he does, it could be off to the NFL.

Fason, after all, has a wife and two kids to provide for.

"I tell my teammates all the time, 'This is going to be my year,' " he said. "I tell them this might be my last year and they end up laughing at me and stuff. If I could end up getting at least 1,200 yards in a season, it's a possibility I'd be gone. With my situation, having a family and two kids to feed, I have no choice."

On a scale of 1 to 10, Fason said the odds of him leaving after next year for the NFL are "a nine or 10."

"I'm expecting to be a top prospect in the NFL Draft next year," says Fason, who doesn't think an 1,800-yard season is out of reach and brags about being better than former Ohio State sensation Maurice Clarett.

All Fason needs, he says, is an opportunity.

He made the most of his 84 carries last season, running for 583 yards (6.9 a carry, tops on the team). But the Neptune Beach native made bigger headlines for clashing with Gator coaches early in the season. Angered about a lack of playing time, he skipped practice after not playing in the Kentucky game. After serving a one-game suspension in a loss to Mississippi, Fason earned playing time against LSU and ended up rushing for 92 yards on seven carries and scoring a huge touchdown on a 35-yard pass play in a win against the eventual national champs.

He still feels UF would have had a bigger year if he'd gotten the football more.

"When we played against Ole Miss, I could have made a difference," Fason said. "When we played against Tennessee, I believe I'd have made the difference. And probably, against Miami, I would have handled the ball and kept the clock going. So I feel I would have made a big difference in some of the games we lost. I told everybody that too, man. I was like, 'If I had played, we would have won.'

"I always tell people if I get 20 carries a game in an 11-game span, I'm going to get up to about 1,800 or 2,000 yards."

One of his biggest fans these days is Gators head coach Ron Zook, who often comes up to his tailback and says, "I'm glad you stayed," which brings a laugh from Fason.

Fason threatened to transfer after the Kentucky game. He was hurt, confused and knew he could be a key player for the Gators.

But nowadays, when Zook tells Fason how happy he is that he's still around, the reply is usually, "Oh, it will pay off this year, Coach."

Contact Jones at 242-3682 or [email protected]

[size=+2]Thinking big

Florida's Ciatrick Fason says an 1,800-yard season might not be out of reach this season. Is 1,800 yards really possible? We threw that one out to a few college football experts:

Matt Hayes, The Sporting News: "The way Florida shares the load in the backfield, if Fason gets 1,800 yards, he's going to need to average about 11 yards a carry. I haven't seen him this offseason, but unless he has put on about 10, 15 pounds of muscle, he's not the type of back that's durable enough to handle 25 carries a game, anyway. Plus, DeShawn Wynn is a very good back -- too good to sit on the bench and get four or five carries a game as Fason's breather. That's why, more than anything, Fason won't get 1,800. The staff wants to play Wynn, too."

Pete Fiutak, Collegefootballnews.com: "Eighteen-hundred yards for his career is possible. For the season, nope. The offensive line will be fine and the running game should shine, but DeShawn Wynn is probably the better workhorse back. Eighteen-hundred yards is a reach, but I want a back who thinks big."

Tony Barnhart, ESPN "College GameDay": "It is very difficult for a back in this league to get enough carries to run for 1,800 yards, particularly against SEC-caliber defenses. But Ciatrick is talented and if there is a back in this league who can do it, he can." <HR>[/size][/font]