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SPORTS WEEKEND | DIANE PUCIN

Stardom Won't Go to Foster's Head

October 09, 1998|DIANE PUCIN

If it seems inevitable that DeShaun Foster will be a gigantic college football star at UCLA, if it seems likely that Foster will be a Heisman Trophy candidate, that he will establish himself as an unstoppable rushing force and that he will eventually become a high draft pick, don't tell that to Albert Foster.

"What DeShaun has is God-given talent and there is no sense in taking that for granted," Albert says of his phenomenally talented son. "For reasons I don't always understand, in this country today if you have athletic talent, you have the potential to make an impact on people, especially kids who will look up to you. And that's what we've, his mother and I, have always tried to teach DeShaun."

This story started out to be about the high school superstar turned freshman backup, about how Foster, "the man" last year at Tustin High, is coping with being just another man at UCLA. About how hard it is to arrive on campus and, maybe for the first time in years, not be told how you're the greatest thing that's ever hit football and instead be told how you're little more than a tackling dummy, that you're slow or lazy or five years away from being a useful college player. Stuff like that.

But then you get to know Foster, soft-spoken and modest, prone to saying how he would be very happy if he could become a good influence for some kids, and you get to know his father, Albert, who explains that his son will always be expected to appreciate education, to be thankful for his God-given talent and to comport himself as a possible role model if anybody would like to make DeShaun a role model.

And, besides, DeShaun might not be hanging in the background all that much longer. Saturday when UCLA plays at Arizona, Foster is scheduled to be the No. 2 tailback, up from No. 3, since teammate Jermaine Lewis was suspended indefinitely for his part in an off-campus fight early Sunday morning.

"Is that true?" Albert says in shock when a stranger on the telephone told him of his son's promotion. "Well, I hate to hear something like that has happened to a teammate of DeShaun's. The way things have been going, the three-player platoon, I thought that had been going pretty well for DeShaun. But I'm sure DeShaun will handle whatever he is expected to handle."

Myron Miller, Foster's high school coach at Tustin, had said that Foster and his family had handled Foster's season of extraordinary stardom last year with sense and a sense of humor.

"Sometimes that's not easy," Miller had said. "When kids are told over and over how great they are, it's not easy for that not to go to their head."

Albert Foster says, "Well, I don't know why that would go to his head. Shouldn't you have someone at home to tell you the truth, to keep your feet on the ground?"

Yes, probably. But not every kid has that person at home. And not every kid who does will pay attention. Not when coaches from all the big football colleges come to your living room and tell you that you are destined to be the superstar tailback from Day 1, that nobody as great as you has ever set foot at ole Football U., that your wish is this coach's command.

Foster laughs now when he remembers the recruiting pitch. It seems so long ago, so unreal, so . . .

"It's kind of like when you go buy a new car and everybody tells you it's the greatest car ever and that, don't worry, they'll always take care of that car. Then you bring it back with a problem and they've never seen you before."

Exactly. That's what it is like the first day of practice when you're a freshman on a college football team. It doesn't matter how big a star you were in high school. It doesn't matter at all what all those coaches said in your living room last fall.

"You get on the field and everybody is yelling," Foster says, "and the game is just so fast all of a sudden. The corner you turned in high school, wow, you can't turn it anymore. And if you do, pow, you get creamed."

This is unabashed modesty and unexpected from a genuine athletic talent. It is honesty expressed with charm and without the need to posture, to make himself seem invincible, to seem cool. No, Foster says, it has not been hard to start every game so far on the bench.

"It's what I expected," he says. "I stand on the sidelines next to the coaches and I watch and listen. It's kind of like another class. It's my job to pay attention and learn."

Where, Foster is asked, did he come to possess this sensible attitude, this willingness to wait his turn, this understanding that it is not always important to be important, this desire, as he puts it, "not to act like a jerk."

"From my parents," Foster says. "And when I made some college visits, I saw players who acted too much like big shots. I realized that's not who I wanted to be. That's not the way I was raised."

Albert is happy to hear that his son says this. But he's not surprised.

"In our family, the important thing is to be a good person," he says. "And I feel that DeShaun is a good person."

And if DeShaun goes crazy Saturday, gains big yardage with his increased playing time, is somehow the star of the game, and if this brings people to start whispering to DeShaun that he should be playing more, that he should be the starter, that he should be the man?

"DeShaun's never listened to that stuff before," Albert says. "Why would he start now?"

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