You should never judge a man based solely on the “good times” in his life. If you never knew his downs, never knew his struggles — you’d never know what really made him the man he has become.
That’s what I took from my interview with Ciatrick Fason, who experienced a football career full of ups and downs; from shattering Northeast Florida High School rushing records and being labeled the #1 running back in the nation by Rivals, to the frustrations in the early parts of his career at Florida which almost caused him to transfer.
Fason’s story is insightful and inspiring. Within a calendar year, he went from being an undependable member of a underachieving team, to one of the last Gators to reach the coveted 1,000 rushing mark. The growth and maturity of Fason, or “C-4” as many Gator fans came to know him, is probably the most impressive thing I took from our open and straightforward conversation. His maturation was recognized by his teammates and coaches in 2004, when they unanimously voted Fason as the recipient of Florida’s Forest K. Ferguson Award — an award typically reserved for the senior player who displays outstanding leadership, character, and courage. Fason was only a junior.
And even though his career in the NFL was never fully realized, as far as longevity and statistics go, Fason told me in the most candid and relaxed way that he has “zero regrets” about his journey.
Happily married with four children, Fason has focused his attention towards more important things in life — lucky for me, I was able to share his attention for a couple hours last week. So, here’s my conversation with Gator-great, Ciatrick Fason.
On Growing Up and Discovering Football
Q: Ciatrick, tell me about your earliest days and memories of football:
A: I’ve always loved football growing up. My great uncle’s kids, Rahim and Khalid Abdullah (who both played in the NFL), were older than me and I would always go to their Pop Warner practices and watch them. I was only six, so I’d just run around and do my own thing on the sidelines. Watching them made me fall in love with the sport.
I stayed up on Jax Beach at the time, known as “The Hill,” and this was kind of a bad area and a bad time in Jax Beach…a lot of drugs going around, things like that. I even had a cousin get killed — he was someone who actually helped raise me growing up.
Q: Did you always hope football would be a big part of your future after that?
A: After [his cousin’s death] it was like…I wanna get out; get away from this. So when I watched Rahim and Khalid make it through college and onto the NFL, it just motivated me to make it far.
Q: Just out of curiosity, did you grow up a Gator fan?
A: Nope, I actually grew up a Seminole — I wanted to be a Seminole, and my sophomore year at Fletcher, we played Tallahassee Leon. I rushed for seven touchdowns and FSU would later on offer me a scholarship. The next year, we played them over at Leon and I scored six touchdowns…but I also played a little defense; played some safety. I had a couple really big hits that day and had a great day defensively. After the game they told me I’d make a great safety and Florida State decided to change their offer from running back to safety.
Q: Had you ever played any other positions?
A: It’s crazy, one of my best friends who played quarterback all through Pop Warner and High School, his uncle was our football coach growing up. My first year, he put me at guard…which, you know, is where all the first year players go even though I was the fastest kid on the team.
Q: Ciatrick Fason, the offensive guard? (We shared a nice laugh)
A: Yep. So I went to guard and we had lost every game. So before the last game, I kept saying I wanna play running back! Coach looked at me and said alright…here’s your shot. Well, my first ever carry turned out to be a touchdown. He left me at running back after that. We didn’t lose any games my second, third, and fourth year of Pop Warner. After that, I realized I could really run the ball.
On His Playing Days at Fletcher High in Neptune Beach, FL
At Fletcher, Fason developed into the nation’s most sought-after running back. He rushed for over 7,400 yards in his career, and eclipsed 2,000 single season rushing yards twice.
Q: Do you remember your first game at Fletcher?
A: My first regular season game we played First Coast, and they had a middle linebacker — big middle linebacker, fast too — who ended up at Rutgers. I was just a freshman so I was a little scared. So first play of the game we call a sweep, and I catch it and take off. I ran 80 yards for a touchdown…so really, the first time I touched the ball in Pop Warner, at Fletcher, at Florida, and even in the NFL, I scored a touchdown.
Q: Speaking of Florida, when did they enter the mix?
A: No SEC schools had recruited me really until my junior year. It’s crazy because two weeks after the Leon game Coach Spurrier called up Coach Reynolds (Fletcher’s head coach). He was recruiting one of our linemen who ended up at LSU, but while Coach Spurrier watched film, he asked coach Reynolds, “Now who’s this running back y’all have? I don’t care about your lineman, I’m not even looking at him anymore.”
Q: So was that how your path to Gainesville began?
A: The next day, I took a field trip to UF. They took me around campus, I met the players, they showed me everything there was. When Coach Spurrier offered me — you know, he’s one of those honest coaches…he’s not going to tell you things without believing it. He told me, look, Earnest Graham might go pro. If he does, there’s no doubt in my mind you have the ability to start here if you work. You could be the man here.
Q: Did you fall in love with UF after your visit?
A: Well, I committed that day, and ever since then, I knew I’d be a Gator. My senior year I went to five Florida games, and just being in The Swamp…that atmosphere the entire  season was electric. You know, I heard everyone yelling “Lito, Lito,” every time Lito Sheppard was back to take a punt and I just knew I’m a Gator. Even when Spurrier resigned and Zook took over, my attitude was “so what?” I knew I was already a Gator and I said I’m going here.
Q: Did it shock you that Spurrier left so abrubtly?
A: Well no, I wasn’t so much shocked because he was a hot commodity at the time but I was a little surprised about it. But we were all just like, dang, who are we gonna get? And then we started hearing about Mike Shanahan. That got me excited. And then we heard about Coach Stoops, who recruited me at Oklahoma, I knew him. So I was like, OK maybe…and then when they turned it down and panic mode set in…we hear about Coach Zook.
Q: What’d you think about the hire?
A: I was like…who? But his first day here was one of my visit days, and he didn’t know anybody and we didn’t know him. It was just crazy. But you know what, he was really a great coach.
On Facing Adversity and Getting His Chance
After a record-breaking career in High School, Fason was expected to contribute early on at Florida. With the departure of Steve Spurrier, however, who left shoes behind that “nobody could fill,” said Fason, the Gators found themselves in a period of transition. 10+ win seasons, SEC Championships, Bowl victories were about to be things of the past. It was during this time that Fason says he learned a lot about himself, and about the importance of becoming a leader.
Q: Did you play early on in your career?
A: Yeah, me and Randy Hand (an offensive lineman) were the only two players to see the field in every game that year. I actually scored on my first carry of my first game against UAB.
During Fason’s sophomore season, he expected to become a major contributor to the Gator backfield. Things didn’t go how he expected. Florida’s backfield consisted of senior Ran Carthon and freshman DeShawn Wynn, both of whom carried the load for the early parts of the season. Fason wasn’t sure why and suspected that his coaches were possibly playing favorites.
Q: What was going on during your sophomore year when you weren’t playing?
A: I played in our first game against FAMU and I rushed for like 72 yards on seven carries. All the backs played but I had the most yards out of everyone. After that game, I didn’t play the next few games. The first time I got back on the field was the Kentucky game…they had us on the ropes until Jared Lorenzen threw that dumb interception. So the coaches tried to put me in the last two minutes — Coach Zook tells me to go in. I’m looking up at the clock thinking, I’ve been sitting on the sideline all game. I’m tight, it’s cold. I’m not going in!
Q: I remember there were rumors about you transferring. Can you describe what was going on at that time?
A: After the Kentucky game I decided I wasn’t going to practice anymore. I’m transferring. All the players were telling me, no way, you love it here, you won’t leave. So I said, exactly, if I love it here this much and I’m telling you I’m tranferring…I’m serious. That’s bad. So I didn’t go to practice that Monday, I didn’t lift weights. I went to class, walked by my teammates and they’d ask if I was going to lift. I told them, nope, I’m going to my dorm. I have nothing to do with University of Florida football.
Q: Which coaches reached out to you?
A: Our strength and conditioning coach called me and asked why I wasn’t showing up, so I let him know I was transferring. Coach Zook finally called me later in the week and we sat down in his office. So I go talk to him. He’s asking me what’s going on and I just let him know I was transferring and I made up my mind. He asked me why…
Coach, I put it all together. You don’t even want me here. DeShawn Wynn is from your home town, you love Ran [Carthon], and you even told me I was your best back just weeks ago. You said I’m the best running back on the team, but you don’t like how I play. I feel offended by that. That’s stupid if I’m the best and I’m not playing.
So I laid out a list of teams that wanted me…Georgia Tech and North Carolina were dying to get me. Coach Zook made a deal with me — he said, I tell you what, since you haven’t practiced the past two days I’ll suspend you for the Ole Miss game and we’ll take it from there. But you have to come back…So the next week we play Ole Miss, and I hate to say it, but that was a time when I wasn’t playing and I almost felt like I hoped we’d lose. Because I knew all I needed was a shot to prove what I could do on the field.
Q: What happened next?
A: Well first of all, looking back on it, that whole situation taught me a lot about life. That one incident when I wanted to leave — it taught me to be patient, no matter what you do in life. Working in the real world is the same thing, you’ve gotta be patient and your opportunity will come.
Me wanting to transfer, the fans actually picked up on it.. I had a tradition before every game after we’d run out of the tunnel; I’d run all the way to the other end zone and jump in the stands and just Gator chomp with the fans and I didn’t do it that game. I came out last of the tunnel and went straight to the sidelines.
2003: The LSU Game and Coming Out Party for Fason — C-4
(There’s actually a great highlight reel of this game provided by the university athletic department’s youtube channel. Here’s the link: Flashback: 2003 Florida @ LSU … Warning, get ready for a full serving of “Oh My’s,” as the video includes Mick Hubert’s play-by-play.)
Q: I’ll never forget the LSU game that season. That was your break out game, tell me about it.
A: Well I still wasn’t getting reps in practice so I was still down, but it’s crazy…Reynoldo Hill, our corner, was a real motivator…always getting us hyped. He said, this is your week, and I told him yeah whatever. And he just kept saying how he felt it, and this was going to be it. So, start of the game, the LSU guys are talkin’ trash at us during warmups — me, Ran, and DeShawn — and I think it shook Ran up a little bit. Early in the game he started talking about how he pulled his hamstring. And now DeShawn Wynn, we knew he had a bad back problem at the time. He got hit, and he was out. So they put me in.
Q: What do you remember most about the game?
A: Soon as I get in, we’re in the middle of a drive and we keep driving. One play, we’re in the shotgun and I tell Chris [Leak], Chris, they’re coming with that all out blitz with their linebackers. They’re gonna stick an end on me, he’s gonna try and guard me. I’m gonna go across the middle, just hit me. So Chris said, alright man, go. So the play happens and I just take off down the seam and Chris put it on the money and I went about 45 yards for a touchdown. And from there, it was on.
Q: So did that pretty much change everything from that point on?
A: Well the next game we were at Arkansas, and they were a top 10 team. Our defense wanted me to start but the coaches went with DeShawn…Ran couldn’t go and DeShawn got banged up in the first half. It’s funny, Arkansas had Cedrick Cobb, who was also #4…Our safety Guss Scott used to always say “home-team” to me because we’re both from Jacksonville. And he said, “Home-team, you’re getting out done by Cobb. I guess he’s the real C-4, right? I guess we’ll call Cobb C-4 now!” He was just trying to get me lit, so our first play of the third quarter we audible to a run, I told Chris to audible to an outside run. And I was ready…took it 75 yards for a touchdown…it was actually a dumb audible because it left two linebackers unblocked, but it worked.
Q: Where does the the nickname C-4 come from? Did you make it up?
A: Well, my senior year of High School they came out with this thing where you could customize your own cleats. So I came up with it, and I made my cleats have C-4 on the strap. And we had a game where it was so muddy and wet that my cleats got ruined, I mean they didn’t dry for weeks…so I stopped wearing them. So I let the name go for a while. Then I got to Florida my freshman year, and our senior running back Earnest Graham was bunked with me during two-a-days. And he kept raving about me, and talking me up. He’d say, man this kid runs explosive. You’re gonna be alright — as of today, I’m gonna start calling you C-4. So I told him, alright man. Well, we get to practice, and there’s Earnest — and he just keeps going, C-4! C-4! Everyone’s looking around like, huh? But it caught on in like two weeks. So eventually the coaches started calling me it, and Mick Hubert started calling me it too. Later on, Earnest was doing an interview that went in the paper, and they asked him about me. And he was saying, this boy’s explosive, I’m telling you! So they said who? And he told them, C-4! Watch for him, he’s explosive!
Q: That’s awesome.
A: I gotta tell you it’s funny because even today, most people don’t even know my name. They’ll see me and they’ll say, damn, you look like a running back? So I’ll just be like, oh, do I? And I’ll tell them I played at Florida, my name’s Ciatrick. They’ll say, no that’s not it, that’s not you. And I’ll ask them if they know about C-4, and their eyes will just open up and they’ll be like, yeah! C-4! You’re C-4!…my wife will just be standing there dying laughing the whole time…I mean she stays laughing.
Fason on the Game He Remembers Most as a Gator
Q: Ok, so Ciatrick, I think I know the answer to this one, but what game would you say you’re most proud of during your career at UF?
A: I’d have to go with beating Florida State at Doak my junior year.
Q: The year before was in infamous “Swindle in the Swamp.” (Ciatrick stepped in: Oh you mean the fluke fumble game? Yup.) Did the result of that game have any affect whatsoever on the 2004 game at Doak?
A: Honestly, that game affected the fans more than it did the players. We were upset to lose and to lose like that, but we don’t need extra motivation when it’s Florida-Florida State. No need to dwell on the year before, even though it did start a riot after the game.
Q: So what’s the team’s mindset before the FSU game in 2004? Zook had already been fired, they were naming the field after Bobby Bowden, we were 6-4 coming into the game. How did you approach it?
A: Well, since I grew up a Seminole fan, I always promised myself I’d do the Gator chomp in the end zone if I ever scored against them…and we actually didn’t even know they were naming the field after Bobby Bowden until that day. We go into the locker room after warm ups, and they told us we have to wait and all this stuff. And we’re like, what? Are they trying us? And they had this defensive end named Travis Johnson who was talking all before the game. He kind of stirred the game up — Channing Crowder (Florida’s starting middle linebacker) sucks. And who’s that running back? What do y’all call him? Ciatrick? C-4? C-What? I don’t even know his name!. So, yeah, he was doing a lot of talking and at this point…in my mind, it’s like…OK. Time to turn up. It’s time to turn up now. And on top of that, Zook’s already fired. I’ll never play for another head coach again most likely, so this is pretty much a big game for me personally on many levels. I knew the NFL scouts would be there, and I knew Florida State had this long streak of never giving up a 100 yard rusher. So that was big to me, it motivated me. And it was also a Florida-Florida State game.
Q: What about the fact that Florida hadn’t won at Doak since 1986? Was that something you guys were aware of?
A: Oh yeah, and just growing up a Seminole and playing at Florida made it that much better. We knew we hadn’t won there in about 20 years, so I’m glad I was able to help end it and score the game winning touchdown.
Q: Describe that moment of your game winning TD.
A: It was third & goal from the 8, so we called two plays in the huddle. And I kept telling Zook to give me the rock…he was kind of unsure about it and I just kept promising him I’d score. He was hesitant, but I told him to trust me and that FSU wouldn’t anticipate it. I just kept believing they couldn’t stop me. So we line up, and I see their linebacker Ernie Sims and he looks at me. I’m thinking, OK, I’ve got this. I get the ball and hit the hole, the offensive line just opened it right up, and one of their players, Jerome Carter, I noticed he didn’t want to hit me. So I scored and did the chomp, it felt so good.
On Urban Meyer
Q: Did you have your mind made up after your junior year, as far as leaving for the NFL? And did Urban Meyer put any effort towards keeping you?
A: I knew it was my time. I had two kids in high school so I had to make the best decision…And then when Urban Meyer came, he really kind of pushed me out the door. He was trying to keep me, but the things he was telling me also made me not want to stay. The first time I met Urban was at 2:30 in the morning at the stadium; he had pretty much just been hired. So Urban asked me to meet him at the stadium and I did.
So he said, I heard you were thinking about leaving? Well after watching you I don’t want you to leave — you’re the biggest recruit for me right now. No high schooler’s can do what you do. I don’t care about any other player on this team but you. My job is to coach. My job is to win championships, and I need you. I could care less about what the players do, I’m here to win championships and to look after my family.
So I’m just thinking about what he’s saying, and yeah, I understood it…but at the same time what am I supposed to do when he just gets telling me he doesn’t care about anyone else on the team?
(Maybe that speaks volumes on what we didn’t know about Meyer during that time.)
On Winning the Ferguson Award
A: Winning that and being a captain are things I’m very proud of because they are based off coaches and players voting for it. Coming up, I never thought I’d be a captain…from being immature at the beginning of my career, wanting to transfer…I’m so glad that all the hard work paid off. And winning the award as a junior, that was a big honor. But being a captain at Florida, and when you look back at the history of all the great ones, it’s an honor to make that list. And I’ve got to thank my teammates, they’re the ones who helped me back when I was having my tough times as a sophomore. And once Zook came up and gave me the opportunity, he spoke to me like a man. He told me he made a mistake when he didn’t play me earlier. But even when I did good, he always motivated me.
Life After Florida, Life After Football
Fason was taken in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He made an immediate impact as a rookie, leading the team in rushing touchdowns, but fell victim to what he called the “politics” of the NFL. After going 9-7 in 2005, head coach Mike Tice was fired. With a new coach wanting his own players, Fason’s stay in Minnesota was just two seasons. Fason told me that after the Vikings hired Jack Childress, it was clear that Childress didn’t want any of the players from the previous draft class.
“I went from back-up, to starter, to reserve, to only dressing out if someone got injured. Then when Adrian Peterson was drafted, I was like, OK, I’ve been here before.”
Fason’s next chance came when he tried out for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008. He was signed to the team, but cut less than a week later. “After I worked out for the Jaguars,” Fason said, “Coach Del Rio told me why he had to release me.” Del Rio’s decision came between Fason and Chauncy Washington, a running back out of Southern Cal. Although Fason told me that Del Rio acknowledged him as the better player, he couldn’t cut Washington because Del Rio, too, was a USC alum.
“It didn’t bother me.”
Politics. Fason knew it, and he says it actually did more good than it did bad.
Fason says the politics of the league shed light on the things that really mattered to him in life. “I love football, but it was just a hobby. Just something I was good at that I did for fun. I never did it because of the money. I tell people all the time that if I could go back and play in college, I would play for another 10 years. That’s when it was fun, I got to play in The Swamp!”
“I was able to walk away from the NFL with no regrets…I’d rather focus my career on my family, and helping other kids grow and get to college.”
That’s something to admire.