Fulton's No. 1 fan makes game special
Fulton's dad on leave from serving Army in Afghanistan to see son play
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- An appearance in the Under Armour All-America Game and announcing which SEC school he'll play for on national TV will not highlight this week for John Fulton.
Spending time with his dad takes that honor.
Fulton's father, Sergeant Major John Fulton Sr., is on leave from serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort earlier this week to be with his son, who will play his final game as a high school player Saturday (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET).
"This is the only high school game my father will see me play in my senior year," said Fulton, who is a four-star cornerback from Manning, S.C. "It's just an honor and a blessing to play in front of my dad one more time."
The elder Fulton's position with the Army requires him to travel, but prior to this season his duties involved domestic assignments.
"It was rough because this was the first time I had ever missed any of his games," Fulton Sr. said. "I used to drive back and forth during his football games and his basketball games and then go back to where I was working at the same night. This year, it was sort of rough because I didn't get the chance to see him play at all. [Manning head coach] Robbie Briggs and my wife did send little pictures and clips and my church family sent stuff all the time."
Still, it wasn't like he could just talk to his son about the game, or school, or recruiting, or life. Communication is not easy from a war zone. But Fulton did the best he could and sometimes they'd communicate through videos.
"I tell him [in the videos] all the time that I am his No. 1 fan," he said. "There is a song out there about No. 1 fan and I tell him to keep playing it over and over. I tell him no matter what happens that I've been blessed. I love sports, but I never thought that one of my kids could do this. He's a good player, plays hard and doesn't want to lose, so I think he will do very well."
Fulton has challenged his son to be competitive at everything he does. An avid runner, he used to take the younger Fulton on long runs with him and time it. If the younger Fulton made a certain time, the run was over. If not, the run was a little bit further. It was these types of activities that allowed the son to become one of the most competitive players in the country.
"Basically, I was 4 years old and playing against 15 year olds in basketball," the younger Fulton said. "The trash talking, I actually learned from him. I was 8 years old and he was playing me as hard as he could. Basically, he hates to lose and is a competitor and put that in me."
The younger Fulton plans to enroll at the college of his choice this coming spring semester, so his father plans to ask for a week-long extension of his leave to be with him while he gets moved into school. Then the elder Fulton would head back to Afghanistan.
"It's going to be real hard because I will be starting college and if I get homesick, I won't have my dad," Fulton Jr. said. "It's going to be hard and I will have to deal with it."
For now, though, he's enjoying the time with his dad and talking about where he'll play football in the fall. He will make a verbal commitment during the game Saturday and has narrowed his choices to Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
"I love Alabama," Fulton said. "[Tuscaloosa] is just like Manning, so if I do end up going there, I am going to have that."
Crimson Tide assistant coach Burton Burns and head coach Nick Saban had an in-home visit with Fulton shortly after Alabama defeated Florida, 32-13, in the SEC championship game and clinched a berth in the national championship game against Texas on Jan. 7 in Pasadena, Calif. The visit went well and the Tide is considered the front runner heading into Saturday.
"They basically broke down the depth chart again," Fulton said. "They have done the depth chart like 1,000 times, but they did it again. They actually brought the book this time and talked to me about that. They told me that I could play early, but they didn't promise me anything and that's what I liked about it."
The in-state Gamecocks, his dad's favorite team, are also a factor. South Carolina has signed defensive backs Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, Damario Jeffery and C.C. Whitlock during the last two recruiting cycles.
"I've loved South Carolina ever since I was a little boy," Fulton said. "My dad brought me up to love South Carolina."
Florida is the third finalist for Fulton.
"I love coach Vance Bedford and coach Kenny Carter from Florida," Fulton said. "Coach Bedford coached my all-time favorite player Charles Woodson when he was at Michigan. We have a great relationship."
Swagger, confidence and competitiveness are all positive traits at the cornerback position. Fulton possesses a high level of all three. He had a solid first few days of work for the Black team and hopes to prove a point this week.
"I know I am underrated, so we are going to see this week," said Fulton, who is No. 42 in the ESPNU 150 and the fourth-ranked cornerback. "That's why I came here, to go against the best of the best. It's great because I can see where I am at. People are ranked up there with me, so it's going to be just like I am in college, so we will see where I am at."
There's that competitive streak. He can thank his old man for that. And this week, he can do it in person.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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