It's hard enough to maintain your machismo when your father is
known as Huggy Bear. It's harder still when Dad's most
celebrated movie role was playing a drag queen. But it's near
impossible when Dad's most memorable movie line was "I'm more
man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get."
Such is the burden shouldered by Justin Fargas, a senior
tailback for Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif. His father,
Antonio, achieved cult status as Huggy Bear, the showy, knowy
informant on the late 1970s TV cop series Starsky and Hutch.
Justin has built his own following over the last two seasons,
running for 5,310 yards and scoring 67 touchdowns, including 119
yards and two TDs in last Friday night's Southern Section
Division III playoff game. And as his 3.1 grade point average
attests, he can plow through textbooks as effortlessly as he
runs through defensive linemen.
"Justin is a power slasher with breakaway speed and great size
and balance," says Allen Wallace, whose SuperPrep magazine rates
Fargas the best high school running back in the country. "He's a
focused, fairly humble team player who has the willpower and
classroom smarts to make it big at the college level."
The smarts that Antonio's characters displayed were of the
street, not the classroom variety. His bad guys needed speed to
stay ahead of badder guys. "In most of the parts I played, I
either got beat up or was the victim," says Antonio, whose
pimps, druggies and gang lords answered to names like One-Eye,
Quickfellow and Doodlebug. "I ran just to survive." Though
cruising 50, he still has the stringy, slightly shifty look that
won him hustler roles in nearly a dozen blaxploitation epics,
from Shaft to Cleopatra Jones. Then there were those
gender-bending roles. "Nowadays a lot of straight actors are
trying to make their mark as gays and transsexuals," he says.
"I've been there, done that." Antonio has bagged the wig he wore
so famously as the homosexual Lindy in Car Wash and bleached his
hair Dennis Rodman-blond. And he wears two-tone loafers, not the
Plexiglas-soled, goldfish-stocked platform shoes he sported to
such great effect as Flyguy in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.
"Justin's look is much more conservative," says his mother,
Taylor, who was divorced from Antonio in 1988. "Flamboyance was
not passed down in the genes."
The shady characters Antonio portrayed often wound up hanged,
blown up or decapitated. As a prank he once left a latex cast of
his severed head under Justin's sheets. The memory of uncovering
the noggin still gives Justin shivers. "As a kid I'd catch my
father's films and think, Wow! I can't believe that's Dad!"
Justin says. "Watching him in those parts made me see him in a
whole different way."
College coaches started to look at Justin differently during
last season. While leading the Knights to a section championship
game, he rushed for 2,970 yards--the third-highest total in
state history--and scored 38 touchdowns. One score came after he
somersaulted over a pile of players at the line of scrimmage,
landing on his back on top of the pile, then sprang to his feet
and dashed 40 yards to the end zone. Recruiters have been
chasing Justin ever since. Michigan and USC seem closest to
snagging him, though he won't rule out Stanford, UCLA,
Northwestern or his high school's Indiana namesake. "Personally
I hope he chooses Stanford," says Taylor. "If only because it
offers the best education." Of course, she may have an ulterior
motive. Manager of product development for the Williams-Sonoma
catalog division in San Francisco, Taylor lives a short drive
from the Cardinal campus.
At 6'1", 185 pounds, Fargas moves with ease and grace and
contained power. As tackler after tackler slants into him, he
advances, fending them off, in a series of jukes until he finds
a gap to cut through like the serrated blade of a handsaw.
"Justin reminds me a lot of Gale Sayers," says his coach, Kevin
Rooney. "He's able to squeeze through small spaces and flow
against the grain of the pursuit. And he delivers punishment to
defenders rather than the other way around. He's a hell of a
Justin was as precocious an athlete as Antonio was an actor. "He
has always been quick on his feet," says Taylor. "I think it
comes from running away from his older brother." At three Justin
was riding a bicycle without training wheels. At six he had
mastered his skateboard so completely that he was competing
against kids twice his age. By 12 he toured Europe with a
California all-star soccer team. Yet he didn't play organized
football until he was 14, the same age at which Antonio had
appeared in his first film. "My mom didn't want me to play
football," Justin says. "She thought I was too skinny and was
sure I'd get my knees broken."
He showed up at freshman practice on the second day of workouts,
having just moved to Sherman Oaks from Newport, R.I., to live
with Antonio again. Sizing up the small, bony 14-year-old, the
coach asked, "What position do you want to play?"
"Running back," said Justin. It was the first thing that popped
into his head. "I figured if you're a running back," he says,
"they have to give you the ball." He figured correctly.
But before he could be given the ball, Justin had to be given a
primer on the game. "I was pretty green," he recalls. "I had no
idea how to put my helmet on, much less strap it to my chin. I
wasn't up on the terminology, either. I knew running back, first
down, pass and run, but not the rest of it." He learned. Fast.
In his third game on the freshman team, he scored two
touchdowns. By Game 10 he had 17.
He opened the next season as the varsity's starting fullback and
fumbled the ball away on his very first carry. "I was sure my
career was over," he says. "Then I realized I was just wearing
too much stuff." So he ripped off his elbow, rib and forearm
pads and started over. He ran for 569 yards and nine touchdowns
that campaign and didn't drop another ball.
To increase his strength and speed, Justin lifts weights and
runs track. In the last 12 months he has raised his best in the
bench press from 250 to 315 pounds, and lowered it in the 100
meters from 11.24 to 10.52 seconds. The latter time won him the
state title last spring in Sacramento. "I'm always trying to
improve," Fargas says. "I want to go faster and farther." Though
his muscles have swelled, his head has not. "One of Justin's
greatest attributes is his humility," says Antonio. "He's not
sucked into the celebrity thing at all."
Once Justin was known as Huggy Bear's cub. These days Huggy Bear
is known as Justin's pop. Though Antonio still finds steady work
in low-budget films--most recently in last year's Don't Be a
Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the
Hood--he more often finds himself on Whatever Happened To?
lists. One movie Web site even refers to him as "the late"
Antonio Fargas. "I feel distinguished by that," he says with
barely contained glee. "That and the fact that I was one of the
few black actors living in Los Angeles during the 1970s who
wasn't in Roots."
Antonio attends most Notre Dame games and many of the team's
workouts. When not serving peach cobbler to the Knights as a
postpractice treat, he acts as Justin's personal
cinematographer, capturing his son's moves on video. He
critiques Justin's performances the way a drama coach would a
promising protege's. A few seasons back Antonio noticed that
Justin was tipping off plays on which he was to get the ball by
tapping his feet during the count. Dad took the son aside and
advised: Be an actor. "I told Justin that Method acting is a
good tool for faking out the defensive line," Antonio says. "By
controlling your emotions, you can disguise your intentions and
get into your opponent's head."
To get into character for games, Justin methodically paces the
sidelines. "Off the field I'm happy and easygoing," he says. "On
the field I turn into an animal. I become as angry and serious
as Samuel L. Jackson was in Pulp Fiction. The difference is that
he blew people away. I blow through them."
CREAM OF THE CROP
Justin Fargas (number 34), who may be the best running back
prospect in the U.S., is one of the top five seniors, as rated
by SuperPrep magazine.
NAME, POS. HOMETOWN HT. WT.
1. DENNIS JOHNSON, DL Harrodsburg, Ky. 6'6" 250
Comment: Has registered 15 sacks in 10 games and punted for a
2. RONALD CURRY, QB Hampton, Va. 6'2" 190
Comment: Virginia-bound, two-sport star has 17 passing
touchdowns and 14 more rushing
3. MATT HOLLIDAY, QB Stillwater, Okla. 6'4" 215
Comment: Holds state 6A record for career touchdown passes (68)
4. DAVID GIVENS, QB-WR-RB Humble, Texas 6' 220
Comment: Option quarterback, but will probably move to running
back or wide receiver
5. JUSTIN FARGAS, RB Sherman Oaks, Calif. 6'1" 185
Comment: Versatile back has rushed for more than 5,000 yards in
Source: SuperPrep; through end of regular season.