Not often do you relate football injuries to punters. They normally sit 15 yards away from the line and kick the ball down the field. Either it’s a good punt which draws applause or a shank which draws moans.
FAMU punter Chris Faddoul has had one of the best tenures in the school’s history as a punter. He came in to FAMU in 2017 and started as a true freshman. He was coming off an ACL tear in his kicking knee his last year of high school, but had a reputation of being a strong punter along with playing quarterback. He showed a lot of promise as a freshman.
In 2018 Faddoul would virtually explode. He obliterated FAMU’s punting records and led the NCAA FCS, ending the season with a selection as first team, All-MEAC, Phil Steele All-American, Box-to-Row All-American and FCS AP All-American. The punter led the nation with an average of 46.8 yards per kick. He would nail 16 punts of 50 yards or longer. He would flip the field virtually every time he touched the ball.
“It was pretty big to be able to come into a Division-I program and play at that level,” Chris Faddoul said. “FAMU had a rich history of specialists here. Juan Vasquez, Vince Coleman, Greg Coleman, Vaughn Wilson, and Wesley Taylor set the bar high for the Rattlers. Wesley also led the nation in stats as well. I always knew there was quite a good history of specialists coming through FAMU.”
Head coach Willie Simmons came to FAMU in 2018 and had Faddoul as a valid weapon. “Special teams is the most underrated, but critical phase of a football team. To come in and inherit arguably the nations best punter was definitely a highlight of coming to FAMU,” Willie Simmons said.
In 2019, FAMU’s offense began to click under Simmons. FAMU’s all-time leading passer Ryan Stanley flourished, meaning there were less punting opportunities for Faddoul. He was called into double duty that season as Yahia Aly slightly injured himself, leaving Faddoul to do some kickoffs. Before transitioning to the SWAC, he would aggravate a groin injury that would require surgery in the offseason.
2020 is the season that changed everything. As with many schools struggling with the global pandemic, FAMU did not play football in the 2020 season. For Faddoul, it meant a full year to heal his groin which for a kicker is a crucial area. For FAMU, it meant that 2019 would be their last season as members of the MEAC as in 2020, they officially announced their move to the SWAC.
2021 was to be Faddoul’s big stage to showcase his skills and solidify himself an opportunity to play at the next level. Just as quickly as it started, it ended. In the third game of the season against the USF Bulls, Faddoul would sustain a torn ACL with damage to his meniscus on his plant foot.
“I had prepared my body more than I ever had. I was playing in front of my hometown and friends and family. When I went down, the feeling I had in my leg was too familiar. It triggered the same feeling I had when I tore my ACL in high school on my kicking leg. It was not as much pain as it was me knowing that it was similar to the last injury I had. Immediately, the thought of is this really happening to me again just took over my mind,” Faddoul said.
It was something that infuriated head coach Willie Simmons. “He was clearly roughed on a punt out of the end zone. The two most vulnerable positions on the football field are quarterback and punter. It was an obvious call and the refs just missed it. I let them know how I felt about it when we had to cart him off the field,” Simmons said. “Chris is not just a punter, he’s a weapon. When he’s healthy, he’s the best in the country.”
Coming off a cancelled Covid-19 year and now having to miss yet another season, it took it’s toll mentally on Faddoul. He pondered whether just to exit the game and graduate or go through the rigors of rehabbing and getting back on the field with the hopes the NCAA would extend a redshirt to him.
One night while in the movies, Faddoul got a text. “I got a text link from Vaughn and I normally never use my phone in movies. I stepped out and clicked the link only to see the very definition of FAMUly. A group of former FAMU punters and kickers had put together a video encouraging me to rehab and come back. The video started with a shot of my locker. Greg Coleman and Vince Coleman, FAMU legends, were included in the video.”
Faddoul had not formally met many of the guys that included All-Americans, ALL-SIAC, and All-MEAC specialists. “My mindset immediately changed. I called Vaughn, who has been one of my biggest supporters since I stepped on the field, and told him that the video convinced me to work harder than ever to come back and make them proud.”
Simmons had concerns about Faddoul to open the 2022 season. “I was never concerned about his physical abilities, but when you have someone that comes off an injury like his, the mental capacity to trust that your plant leg will hold up is more challenging than your kicking leg. When you punt, your entire body’s weight shifts to your plant leg,” Simmons said. “It was a struggle. I knew he had the leg, but getting him to mentally just release the way he had in the past just wasn’t happening. There was not a real threat of me going to an alternate punter because he was one of the best weapons on our team.”
As the first game approached, the mental struggle was still there for Faddoul. In the game against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, Faddoul was “short-legging” his punts in the first quarter. Something clicked inside of Faddoul and he returned to his normal self, booming punts up and down the field in perfect placement including a 60-yarder that signaled he was back. From there, he would return to his status as the best punter in the conference.
One thing that makes Faddoul special is his athleticism. In his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, he executed a fake punt perfectly to get one of the largest gains the Rattlers had all day against the Razorbacks. Against Bethune-Cookman the next year, he executed a fake field goal, flipping the ball to Aly for a big first down. This season, he had two of the best athletic exhibitions for a punter. “Coming in at FAMU and being asked to just be a punter was something out of the ordinary for me. It’s restricting myself to one pretty boring thing for a guy who played multiple positions and multiple sports in high school,” Faddoul said.
Against the Southern Jaguars, he would execute a play put in by FAMU Special Teams coordinator Chili Davis. It was a play designed to draw the Jaguars offsides. Faddoul’s familiarity as a quarterback boded well for the trick play. He came from lined up in punt position to under center, where he barked out signals that eventually drew Southern offsides, leading to a FAMU score. His biggest fake came against arch-rival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Blue Florida Classic. Faddoul would get to show his quarterback arm, throwing a pass to a wide open tight end to lead the Rattlers to a crucial score against the Wildcats. “I get excited about fakes and the opportunity to show my other skills. That’s the most fun. When I threw the pass in Orlando, players were coming up to me wondering when I learned to throw like that,” he said while laughing.
“From laying on the turf in Tampa to being able to play again was a full circle experience. I had great support from my family, my friends, teammates and coaches. I was struggling at the beginning of camp. I never had to go to camp immediately after rehabbing like this injury required. Going from on that turf to first team all-conference is something I should be proud of, but there’s a part of me that feel that I left a lot of yardage out there this year. I’ll always have that thought, but it was a great way to end my career,” he concluded.
Simmons is hard pressed imagining starting the season for the first time as a FAMU coach without Faddoul. “Chris is a guy that it is impossible not to like. Everything about the man says class,” Simmons said. ‘He’s a great student and great leader and a great ambassador for the university. He’s one of those rare gems, that in five years I don’t think I’ve ever seen him have a bad day, and that is rare in today’s time,” Simmons concluded.