Kris Farris - UCLA
College Football: Kris Farris is a movie aficionado and a star on
UCLA's Offensive line.
LOS ANGELES When Kris Farris was still a teen-ager, he went on a weekend retreat with a group from St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel to prepare for his confirmation.
At one point, each person was told to go into the woods and bring back a rock symbolizing that person's problems. Farris hauled back a boulder. It was a joke.
"I don't have any problems," Farris said.
The rest of the group was skeptical. Surely Farris, then a student at Santa Margarita High, had some problems, most teens do.
"But I don't," he insisted.
One member suggested Farris was hiding "something awful."
Finally, Farris came clean. Once, he admitted, trying to appease the group, he had received a poor grade in English.
"My life," Farris said, "is good."
Life is still good for Kris Farris. It's just that it's a little more complicated these days.
Earlier this month, Farris, now a junior left offensive tackle at UCLA, added the Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the nation's best lineman, to a growing list of honors that also includes first team All-America and All-Pac-10 selections. He is a big reason, as in 6-foot-9, 315 pounds, why Pac-10 champion UCLA (10-1) is a nine-point favorite against Big Ten co-champion Wisconsin (10-1) in Friday's Rose Bowl.
A few days after the Rose Bowl, Farris will reach a decision on a matter that has weighed on him for weeks whether to return to UCLA for his senior season.
"It haunts me," Farris said.
Compared to this, that boulder back in high school was nothing. Trying to decide whether to skip his senior season to enter April's NFL draft or come back to Westwood and take another shot at the national championship has required some heavy lifting.
"I can't sleep," Farris said. "I think about it all the time. I used to think it would be black and white."
The toughest decisions never are.
"Either way I go, it wouldn't be 100 percent right," Farris said. "It wouldn't be 100 percent wrong. Either way it's going to be a good decision and it's going to be a bad decision."
Yet in the murkiness there are hints as to where Farris will land next fall. They can be found in a cold December that still sends chills through Farris four years later.
JOB WELL DONE
On a quiet December night in 1994, Farris and his mother Debbie were watching a college football awards show on television at the family's Mission Viejo home.
Midway through the program the Outland Trophy came up.
"What's this one for?" Debbie Farris asked her son.
"This award is for the best lineman in the country," Kris Farris explained.
"Oh, so you're going to win it someday," Debbie said matter-of-factly.
"I don't think so," her son replied shaking his head.
Kris Farris had spent most of his young life lost in a world of Luke Skywalker and Norman Bates and Travis Bickle and Charles Foster Kane and Michael Corleone.
When he was 5, Farris was convinced he was Superman, wearing the action hero's costume night and day. Now at 17, the Outland seemed even more of a fantasy.
In 1994 Santa Margarita had 27 varsity players. At the team's banquet a few days earlier, 15 awards were handed out. None went to Farris. That same month USC withdrew its scholarship offer. Stanford dropped him. By the end of December only UCLA seemed to stand firm behind Farris.
"UCLA was the only program that believed in me," Farris said. "A lot of schools gave up on me. UCLA didn't. It would be hard for me to turn my back on somebody that put a lot of faith in me. It would be wrong to shortchange them."
Even if Farris did leave for the NFL a year early, no one in Westwood is likely to complain that they were ripped off.
After quarterbacks Cade McNown of UCLA and Oregon's Akili Smith, Farris was the Pac-10's most dominant offensive player this season.
"Dominating is the right word," Bruins left guard Oscar Cabrera said. "Unbeatable."
Even on an offensive front that yielded a Pac-10-low 10 sacks in 11 regular-season games, none in the final three games, Farris was the undisputed heavyweight champion. He had a team-high 43 knockdown blocks to earn the silk boxer's robe Bruins offensive line coach Mark Weber awards each season to the team's 'pancake king.'
"There's been plays where Kris has knocked guys 10 yards," Cabrera said. "There was one play against Southern Cal where Kris just wiped out (USC All-America linebacker Chris) Claiborne. Killed him."
Farris had eight knockdown blocks against a Washington defense that had led the nation in sacks but was unable to get its hands on McNown in a 36-24 Bruins victory Nov. 14. He had a stack of five pancakes in UCLA's crucial 52-28 victory at Arizona on Oct. 10 and five more in a 42-24 victory at Houston on Sept. 19.
Although he can power clean lift 326 1/2 pounds, Farris' game is hardly all strength. He has a 27 1/2-inch vertical leap and is quick and agile enough to head off defensive ends, tackles and outside linebackers with 40-yard dash times that would make some tailbacks envious.
"There's no telling," Bruins All-Pac-10 right guard Andy Meyers said, "how good Kris could be. He's pretty good right now."
Farris gave up no sacks and just 2.5 hurries in more than 360 pass opportunities. Little wonder the Bruins averaged a Pac-10-leading 482.6 yards total offense and 40.4 points.
"Made my job a lot easier," McNown said.
Farris also is durable. He has started all 34 games of his college career. He played 83 snaps in UCLA's 41-38 overtime victory against Oregon on Oct. 17, and 79 in the Bruins' 41-34 nail-biter at Oregon State on Nov. 7.
HOOKED ON FILMS
Nearly as important as Farris' durability on the field is that it is Farris who supplies the videos for the UCLA trips.
"The guy knows everything about movies," Meyers said. "He knows all the directors. He can quote lines from all kinds of movies. It's amazing."
Growing up, movies, not football, was Kristofer Martin Farris' passion.
"I was really hyperactive as a kid," Farris recalled. "Movies were the only thing that could get me to sit still. I'd go to the theater and just get lost in a movie for two hours."
Even today, movies provide a constant backdrop to Farris' life.
"Even when I'm studying, I have to have a movie going on the DVD player in the background," he said.
It was Farris' father, Marty, who sparked Kris' interest in movies.
"Kris has three sisters, so Kris and I started having 'Boy's Night Out,' " Marty said. "We'd go to the mall and go to a movie. That's what started it I guess."
By the time Kris Farris was 8, he and his buddy Alan Stetson were dressing up in camouflage and writing, directing and starring in their own war movies, filmed with Marty's 8-millimeter camera.
"They were actually quite good," Marty said. "They had a plot, a theme, everything."
More than a decade later, Farris is still big on war movies, ranking "Saving Private Ryan" as No. 3 on his all-time top 10 list, behind "Citizen Kane" and "Schindler's List" and ahead of "The Godfather."
By junior high, Farris was frequently talking his teachers into letting him do film reports instead of term papers on class subjects.
"He always got A's with them," Debbie Farris said.
Farris' star quality also was starting to emerge on the baseball diamond around the same time.
"Even then he was a big, husky kid," Marty said. "He hit a lot of home runs in Little League. When he would come up to bat, I'd yell, 'Put one over the fence' and he'd look over and give me a wink and then hit a home run."
THE FOOTBALL CHAPTER
It wasn't until Farris' freshman year at Santa Margarita that football caught his interest. "Kris said he didn't know anything about football," Marty said, "so he went to the library and checked out a book on football. He said he had to read up on it."
Farris was a quick study. By the summer between his junior and senior seasons most recruiting services were ranking Farris among the nation's top offensive line prospects. Farris idolized USC All-America tackle Tony Boselli and when the Trojans offered him a full scholarship early in the fall of 1994, Farris verbally committed to Coach John Robinson and offensive line coach Mike Barry, promising to sign with USC on National Letter-of-Intent Day the next February.
But the 1994 season was disappointing for Farris and Santa Margarita. "The expectations were so high for me, there's no way I could have met them," Farris said.
A few hours after finding out he had failed to make All-Orange County, Barry called to tell him the Trojans didn't want to sign him that February after all.
"I was devastated," Farris said. "Coach Barry called, and I told him I didn't make All-League and I asked him if that was going to affect whether they still wanted to sign me or not and he said, 'Well, actually, that's one of the reasons I'm calling.' They didn't want to sign me. They wanted me to sit out a year and then come in. That really hurt me. I was really, really discouraged. It was the worst day of my life."
Farris was in his room in tears when UCLA assistant Bob Field called. Farris, already dumped by USC and Stanford, braced himself for more bad news. Again he told Field he had not made All-League.
"Does this mean schools are going to quit recruiting me?" Farris asked.
"I sure hope so," Field said, "because we really want you."
When National Letter-of-Intent day rolled around in February, the Bruins still wanted him. As for the Trojans, Farris would have the last laugh.
"I'm 3-0 against the Trojans," Farris said. "That I always have my best games against 'SC is not a coincidence."
USC's porous offensive line has been a source of criticism. This season, USC finished next-to-last in the Pac-10 in sacks allowed, giving up 36 sacks for 207 yards, compared with UCLA's conference-best 10 for 68 yards.
So, the question remains: Should Farris come back and try and make it 4-0 against the Trojans, or does he go to work on Sundays next fall?
Last week a series of NFL front-office types projected Farris as a late first-round pick during telephone calls with UCLA coach Bob Toledo and Farris.
"I think he should come back," Toledo said.
Farris' 19-year-old twin sisters, Karly and Kelly, want him to go pro. "They want me to buy them cars," he said laughing.
Cars will likely be 2000 models. "I look at what we have coming back next year, I look at (freshman tailback) DeShaun Foster and (All-Pac-10 flanker) Danny (Farmer) and our defense will be good next year," Farris said. "We could be really good next year."
There also is the opportunity of becoming only the second player, the first since 1982, to win the Outland twice.
A few hours after Farris returned to Los Angeles from the College Football Awards Show in Orlando, UCLA offensive coordinator Al Borges pulled him aside to congratulate him.
"I don't think you know how big of a deal this is," Borges said.
Someone else did though.
On a quiet December night a few weeks ago, Debbie Farris had just finished watching a football awards show on television when the telephone rang.
Her son the Outland Trophy winner was calling from Orlando.
She reminded him of the night four years earlier.
"I think I'm the only person in the world who realizes how important this is to you," she said.
"My mom," Farris said later, "was probably right.