Questions Answered

Yes, this year’s football team can put points on the board. 

By David Porter

Were he not so versatile an athlete, senior Stephen Faulk might have been able to sneak through four years at Penn without having to sit still for things like photo ops and feature stories. After meeting Faulk, you get the sense that the unassuming young man from Los Angeles probably would not mind this at all.

Sit still he must, though, after one of the more auspicious debuts of any Penn athlete in recent years. After spending the last two autumns as a cornerback on the best defensive unit in the Ivy League—and one of the best in Division 1-AA last season—Faulk stepped into the void left by the graduation of career-rushing leader Kris Ryan C’02 and responded with five touchdowns in his first two games, both Penn victories. The switch of Faulk from defense to offense, and the performance of the offense as a whole, was a big question mark entering the season, which means the Quaker coaching staff and fans are now allowed to exhale after Penn churned out 76 points in the first two games.

Faulk, the son of an LAPD cop, was originally recruited as a running back out of Loyola Prep of Los Angeles, where he was a teammate of Quaker defensive end, senior Andrew Altman. But he broke his collarbone during his freshman season, and when he returned, coach Al Bagnoli switched him to defensive back, a position he had also played in high school. With Ryan, quarterback Gavin Hoffman W’01, and senior wide receiver Rob Milanese pacing a high-scoring offense the last two seasons, Faulk settled in with a defensive unit that allowed a little more than 11 points per game in 2001, the year he was named second-team All-Ivy.

Now, he is aware that his Q rating has shot past that of his former defensive mates. 

“It sort of does an injustice to those guys on defense,” Faulk said diplomatically. “They work just as hard as I do, and they deserve just as much attention, if not more, than I’m getting.”

While Faulk’s speed was never in question—he was a standout sprinter in high school and a member of the Penn quartet that won the Heps 400-meter relay last spring—his ability to run inside had not been fully tested. That is, until the first quarter of what became a 52-21 win over Lafayette when he ran for touchdowns of four, 12, and 24 yards. 

“We always knew he could outrun people to the corner,” Bagnoli said, “but he did a good job setting up his blocks and hitting the holes.”

Faulk readily admits he is still a work-in-progress as a running back. One thing he has already mastered is the art of giving credit to his offensive linemen.

“They do all the work; they’re the big dogs. I just run with the ball. I’m just in there to make yards and take what they can give me. It’s their show. To be honest, I’m still learning,” he says, crediting the help of running-backs coach Steven Downs and fellow running backs Jake Perskie, a junior, and Todd Okolovitch, a senior. “I’m not going to master this offense in a month. I have a lot of work to do, and hopefully I’ll get there before the end of the season.”

Against Lehigh on September 28, Faulk’s speed and some trickery in the Quakers’ playbook paid off when he took a lateral from junior wide receiver Joe Phillips, who had caught a pass from senior quarterback Mike Mitchell, and ran 22 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. The score ended up being the difference in a 24-21 Penn victory that snapped the Mountain Hawks’ 26-game regular-season win streak.

If Faulk has dreams of an NFL career like that of Indianapolis Colt Jim Finn W’99, the last Quaker to switch from defensive back to running back, he is keeping them to himself—his immediate plans are to graduate this December with a degree in political science, then go back to Los Angeles and prepare to take the LSATs and get the law degree he has coveted since arriving at Penn. It will be a different side of law enforcement than the one his father, Stephen, pursued, which is just fine with the younger Faulk.

“It was scary sometimes, but he’s made it through and he’s about to retire,” the son said. “It’s a little too dangerous for me. I’d rather stick with the pen and paper.”

Breaking a long-standing school record may not have been the most important thing Rob Milanese did in the Quakers’ thrilling win over Lehigh. That distinction would have to go to the block the lanky wide receiver threw on a Lehigh defender that helped spring Faulk for the touchdown that gave Penn a 17-7 lead at halftime.

On the play before Faulk’s touchdown, Milanese caught a 24-yard pass from Mitchell that pushed him past Don Clune C’74 and into the No. 1 spot on Penn’s all-time receiving yards list. Milanese, a Wyckoff, N.J., native, had 10 catches for 111 yards and a first-half touchdown, giving him 2,495 yards for his career. He needed 13 catches to surpass the career record of 200 catches held by Miles Macik C’96, a number he should have reached by the Quakers’ October 10 game at Villanova. Milanese already holds the school’s single-season marks of 76 catches and 936 yards, set in 2000.

Clune’s record of 2,419 yards was the oldest career mark on the books. A fifth-round draft choice of the New York Giants in 1974 who played three years in the NFL with the Giants and the expansion Seattle Seahawks, Clune averaged 20 yards per catch in his three years for the Quakers, and still holds the single-game mark for receiving yardage with 284, set against Harvard in 1971.

Gazette sports columnist David Porter C’82 is the author of Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball.

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