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Faulk no small factor in Patriots' progress

FOXBOROUGH -- As if his job description weren't varied enough -- running back, receiver, kick returner, quarterback (in an emergency and, occasionally, by design) -- Kevin Faulk also acts on Sundays.

"If I get banged up or hurt a little bit, I'll be like, `You gotta get up. They say you can't take a beating,' " said Faulk, the Patriots' 5-foot-8-inch, 202-pound multipurpose threat. "I really have to be hurt [to stay on the ground]. I'm not going to let anybody know I'm hurt.

"Like last week. When I got hit on the second play of the game, I thought I lost my teeth. But I still stayed in there for one more play."

If you've watched the Patriots' first three games, you'll likely agree that they're a better offensive team when Faulk is on the field. Heading into today's game against the Redskins at FedEx Field, Faulk, long dismissed as too tiny to be an every-down back, has touched the ball more than any Patriot save for Tom Brady. Faulk leads the team in rushing with 164 yards on 34 carries (a hefty 4.8-yard average), is tied with Larry Centers for the team lead in receptions with 10, and has returned a team-high eight kickoffs for 163 yards (average of 20.4).

If he maintains his pace, Faulk will run for a career-high 880 yards, finish with 422 receiving yards, and amass 864 kickoff-return yards for a total of 2,166 all-purpose yards. He's coming off a career campaign in which he gained 1,440 yards.

At some point last season -- some like to point to the loose ball he ignored against Green Bay in Week 6, though he disagrees -- Faulk went from being a player to a player. He finished 2002 on a tear, sparking the comeback win in Chicago with 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns, scoring on kickoff returns against the Raiders and Jets, and coming up with several clutch catches and runs in the finale against Miami.

"Basically, last year I had to stop worrying about and listening to what other people told me," said Faulk, who, in his five seasons, has seen as many tailbacks come and go as Ty Law has seen right cornerbacks (read: a lot). This year he is sharing the tailback duties with Antowain Smith. "I had people telling me, `You should be playing more; you should be getting the ball more,' " Faulk continued. "Once you hear that a lot, you say, `Yeah, maybe I should be getting the ball more.' As a competitor, you have to think like that. You want to be the man. But as a player, you have to understand your role. You know, it took a while. I finally [realized], the only thing I can control is Kevin."

And defenses have had difficulty containing the new Kevin Faulk. It's not a stretch to say that Faulk is challenging Troy Brown for the role of Patriots go-to guy. And to think, this may never have been, as the Patriots offered Faulk in trade discussions following the 2001 season.

"He's been our workhorse," Brown said. "You look at him and you wonder, because he's not the biggest guy in the world, if he can take the pounding. He's proven that he can."

Ever since he was drafted in the second round of the 1999 draft, and despite being the only player in the league in 2002 to score multiple touchdowns in three categories, Faulk has been hearing that he can't.

"I've been getting that since I left high school," said Faulk, a distant relative of St. Louis's Marshall Faulk and an All-American at Carencro (La.) High who went on to become the second-leading rusher in Southeastern Conference history at Louisiana State. "That doesn't even bother me anymore. I even laugh at it sometimes."

On the outside, that is.

"I might be contradicting myself when I say I don't pay any mind to people telling me I'm too small, because I still got that thought in my head," he said. "It's there, and I'm saying, `I've got to do this.' That really drives me, and when people talk trash to me, that really helps me out a lot."

Finding motivation By contributing in so many areas, Faulk seems to be trying to live up to the Superman tattoo on his left arm, body art inspired by his friend Shaquille O'Neal, a so-so athlete himself during his days at LSU who sports an "S" on his right arm. "He's totally silly," Faulk said of O'Neal, whom he met through one of the university's academic advisers. "You know who reminds me of him? Willie Mac [McGinest]."

Faulk "will make you get them ankles twisted up," McGinest said in reference to Faulk's agility. "Punishment? What punishment? He doesn't get hit that much. Look at Warrick Dunn. Same type of runner, except Kevin might be a little thicker. You can't ever get a clean shot on the dude. Tough guy, too, man. You see his legs?"

In all, Faulk has approximately 10 tattoos. On his back is a portrait of his family: Latisha, his wife of four years; daughters Tanasha (8 years old) and Kevione (2); son Kevin III (7), and the name "Kevin Jr.," in memory of the son the couple lost to a miscarriage some eight years ago.

Faulk has experienced his share of tragedy during his 27 years. When Kevin was "9 or 10," his 20-year-old brother, Gerald Faulk Jr., was murdered, Kevin said. "He got involved in a gang fight, and he got stabbed seven times," Faulk said. "That actually turned my life around. At that point in time, I used to hang out with him all the time. I was getting suspended, expelled from school, and when that happened, I knew that wasn't what I wanted. I didn't want to be on the street or whatever, a nobody. I started playing football, and that's where it all started."

There isn't a linebacker in this league who can deliver a blow as painful as losing your older brother and first child. "You could call it tragedy, but at the same time you could call it something that opens your eyes, makes you take a second look at life," Faulk said. "You have to be able to understand that things happen for a reason."

His first year in New England, Faulk backed up Terry Allen. In 2000, he shared time with second-round pick J.R. Redmond and led the team in rushing (570). The past two years, he's been the third-down back behind Smith.

"I had to mature a lot," Faulk said. "Because, coming from high school and coming from college, I was playing, I was the man, the one that was getting the bulk of the carries. You get here, and everybody's on the same level as you."

He thought he lacked something as a player when Bill Belichick arrived in 2000. The coach signed Raymont Harris and drafted Redmond and Patrick Pass, the latter of whom is, like Smith, one of Faulk's closest friends on the team. "When Coach Belichick first got here, I didn't think he accepted me," Faulk said. "That was my thought. As the years went on, I figured out that wasn't the [case]. It's just the way he is. Belichick gives players a lot of tests, and they don't really know it. And you have to figure it out yourself."

Time-sharing Unless the Patriots stick with Smith and pick up his $500,000 option bonus for next season or start over at tailback, Faulk stands to receive a nice new contract once his rookie deal runs out at season's end. Asked whether the team had approached him about an extension, Faulk said, "It's like I tell people who ask me about it all the time. I tell my agent, `I really don't need to hear about it, I don't want to hear about it, and if something comes up, cool. That's why you're there; handle it.' If it gets done, it gets done. I just want to play football and not worry about it."

Faulk, stronger yet 5 pounds lighter than he was last year, battled Smith in camp for the starting job, and the duel ended in a draw. The competition, Faulk says, hasn't soured their relationship. "This is our job," he said. "We're both here to do the same thing."

Would Faulk like to continue doing his (many) thing(s) in New England? "I know everything here," he said. "I'm settled here. Why not?"

If, one day, Belichick were to ask Faulk to play nose tackle, the coach probably would get a similar response from his most versatile player.

"It's the will to want to, the will to want to help your team no matter what the situation is," Faulk said. "And that's basically been my motto since I've been playing: Whatever I can do to help the team win, I'm going to do. I want to be the one that's going to get the ball, that's going to touch the ball more than anybody."

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