Faircloth in the running again

Todd Faircloth is an enigma of sorts when it comes to the top names competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series — even more so when it comes to those vying for the top-12 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year playoff.

 Most of the easy talk centers around Kevin VanDam, who shares so many nicknames it's difficult to settle on one: From "VanDamage" to simply "the best." Then there's the flash of Skeet Reese, the California dude in Aaron Martens, the loud and boisterous Michael Iaconelli, followed by the clean-cut and Christian Alton Jones and Randy Howell.

 In the middle is the quiet man — Todd Faircloth, the guy that is easy to overlook until you start looking at records.

 In the last three seasons, Faircloth has never been outside the top 10 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Last season was especially notable. He stayed in the top two most of the year, leading the race going into the final event at Lake Oneida.After a near flawless season, Lake Oneida for Faircloth was like David Tyree to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. After a model season, the team that threatened to be perfect was undone by an unexplainable, almost freakish catch off the helmet of Tyree.It opened the door for the New York Giants to win, in the same way that Oneida's finicky smallmouth unexplainably shut down on Faircloth and allowed another giant, VanDam, an opportunity to capture the title, even while VanDam was struggling on his own.It was the closer for another storybook year, not so much for Faircloth, but for VanDam.The accepted best angler on the tour had a banner year, winning two events and in general showing out at every venue. Faircloth, though, stayed with him every step of the way. And about the only place people noticed was in those standings "I'm not as recognized,'' Faircloth said. "But that's OK. I guess I'm the laid-back country boy who grew up fishing with his dad. But if I keep catching them people will have to take notice."For the second year in a row, Faircloth figures heavily in the Angler of the Year race. He's currently in seventh place in the standings, seemingly in good shape to make the final 12-man playoff field. But there is one big, familiar hurdle standing in his way — Lake Oneida.I want revenge on Oneida,'' Faircloth said, tilting his head up slightly, showing a hint of intensity in his eyes one normally never sees on the weigh-in stand. "I was disappointed. It hurt, not so much for me, but for my family, my friends and my fans."I don't think I have ever felt that much stress. It was tough emotionally. There were a lot of people who wanted me to win. They identified with me, relate to me and I hurt for them and my family more than anything else. I think my wife took it harder than I did, because she knows how hard I work at this."Sitting next to Faircloth behind the weigh-in stand at the Genuity River Rumble on the Mississippi River, it was easy to see that the hurt was still there in some form. Faircloth's quiet, unemotional personality is always there, but you could feel it change when he talked about Oneida in 2008, obviously hoping that something unexplainable isn't waiting for him again.I try to learn from my mistakes and my bad tournaments,'' Faircloth said. "But I don't understand what happened. I had a good practice. It just wasn't my time is all I can say about it."Last year wasn't all that bad, though."People started looking at me as a contender,'' Faircolth said. "Kevin won two and I was still there. He racked up a lot of bonus points by leading events and it still went to the wire."He plans on doing whatever it takes to make it go to the wire in 2009. Not that he would ever say anything cocky. That would be too un-Faircloth.About as far as the laid-back country boy will go is, "I have full intentions of being a part of (Angler of the Year race).

"I don't plan to stop catching them at Oneida. That's in the past."And if there is one thing he's learned — anything but first is way too quiet.