Will Mario Fannin be Auburn's next great Tailback ?
There were high hopes in the Fannin household in Hampton, Georgia when one of the South's highly rated running backs signed with Auburn University in 2006. And why not, after all Mario Fannin would get a quality education and be able to play at the same school that had produced a long line of All SEC and All American running backs. Players such as Tucker Frederickson Brent Fulwood, James Brooks, Joe Cribs, Stephen Davis, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Bo Jackson, and many others that have been part of the rich heritage that has caused the school to be dubbed " Running Back U."
Mario arrived on campus with youthful exuberance of taking his place among that long list of Auburn greats. Little did he or anyone else know at the time how long a journey it would take to realize that dream? After being red shirted his freshman year, it looked like he was going to have a breakout year during his sophomore season. However, his career was set back by costly fumbles in games against Mississippi State and the University of South Florida. Auburn lost both games. Subsequently he didn't get the chance to play much at the tailback position for the rest of 2007.
In the spring of 2008 he appeared to have regained the trust of Eddie Gran, his running back coach. Gran said Mario was a "physical big play guy that brought a real spark to the team." It appeared he was finally going to turn the corner when he was hit with yet another obstacle; he sustained a dislocated shoulder in spring practice and had to have surgery. When the season rolled around, Fannin was moved to wide receiver partly to give his shoulder time to heal and partly because new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin needed people who could catch the ball in traffic. Everyone knows how that season ended.
Fannin got a fresh start in 2009 when Coach Chizik hired Gus Malzahn as the new Offensive Coordinator. Malzahn decided to use him in a variety of ways. Mario saw action at wide receiver, H-back, wildcat quarterback, running back, and kickoff return specialist. It looked like he had now played almost every position except offensive line. Coach Malzahn seemed to find ways to keep him in the game. The fans saw just why in 2009 ... Mario could be explosive from anyplace on the field.
No matter where he has played the last three years, Mario has excited fans with his obvious talent. Last year he averaged 8.4 yards every time he ran the ball. After the spring game Gus Malzahn announced he would be the starting tailback for the 2010 season. We can only guess what will happen now when he is the featured back with 20- 30 touches per game.
He's paid his dues. He has been loyal, patient, unselfish, tough, and willing to contribute anywhere on the team. He has always had the attitude that he was willing to do whatever it took to help his team. He never complained, he has been the ultimate team player. He said that all that mattered to him was to "be able to help my team in any way possible." He never became frustrated at being asked to play in so many different positions? In fact when asked that question at the time Mario said that, "It was an honor."
And now his unselfish actions have paid off. Everything he has done for the past four years has led up to this point. Finally he is the starting tailback at "Running Back U". Does he ever wonder what might have been? Sure he does, but he has never dwelled on it. He said that he has learned a lot from adversity and now that he has finally reached his goal, he says in true Fannin humility, "I consider it a blessing to be able to play running back at Auburn University and follow those greats."
At the same time Gus Malzahn will now have another weapon to make it difficult for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme against. By playing Fannin every down and moving him around in the backfield, Mario will be a threat any time he touches the ball. When you add to that formula a mobile and athletic quarterback (like Cam Newton) you increase the threat of the running back doing damage to opposing defenses.
Friends, family, and fans are happy for Mario. The reason he came to Auburn was to play tailback. Running back Coach Curtis Luper said, "I think that's his natural position. (And) it's obvious to me that Mario can do what Ben Tate did for this offense." As for the question of any fumbling troubles Luper said that during spring practice, "He didn't put the ball on the ground. Not even once." He added "Mario will run for 1,000 yards ... No question. Write it down. Bold letters." And oh about that old shoulder injury ... coaches say he doesn't shy away from it at all, that he lowers his shoulders going through the hole.
The fans have no doubt that he is one of the most gifted players on the team due to the flashes of exciting talent he has displayed the last three years. In addition his coach says, "He's a complete back. He can do it all." Therefore it shouldn't be surprising, that this writer predicts that Super Mario will be one of the best backs in the SEC in 2010. He has added weight (230lbs) and still has the moves and breakaway speed that will put him in the running for all conference teams and quite possibly in the mix for some of the top position awards in the country.
He has earned the right to be the starting running back. Some lesser men would have had their patience worn down by all that's happened to him. But Mario has proven there are some things worth waiting for. Adversity just makes him stronger. He gets stronger with each trial, each test, each set back. That kind of person does something about "the wait" ... they work hard, they never give in, and they persevere. They become like tempered steel that comes out of the furnace hard and shaped into the right form. Yes Mario has proven that it's not enough to just wait. You have to be productive where you're at; you have to work hard and make things happen for yourself.
So ... do good things happen to those who wait? They do to people like Mario Fannin who do more than wait, they happen to those who work for them, to those like Mario, who fight for them. Who, through the testing of the fiery furnace of adversity, has been purified and forged into the man he is today ... "Running Back U's" starting tailback.