PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Bubba Fairman, a freshman out of Sandy Utah, scored three goals and added two assists in the NCAA quarterfinal win over Cornell.

The Pride of Utah: Bubba Fairman Helping Maryland Push for Repeat


Jay Fairman figured out pretty quickly that his son, Bubba, was no ordinary lacrosse player. Playing at the base of the mountains in Sandy, Utah, Bubba had the instincts of a future star as soon as his second season.

The moment Jay Fairman realized his son was destined for lacrosse stardom came when Bubba was in the fifth grade. He and his undefeated Brighton youth team were up against Alta, one of the top teams in the Salt Lake Valley, and the game was tied in the waning seconds.

With Alta in possession, Bubba’s team began the ride, caused a turnover and he picked up the ground ball, headed for a one-on-one with the goalie. As the clock headed toward zero, Bubba met the goalie at the crease. His first thought? Hit him with the behind-the-back shot.

“You know what?” he thought. “I’m going to try it out.”

On the sideline, his father wasn’t as thrilled.

“It’s like 4, 3, 2 and what’s that little sucker do?” Jay Fairman said. “He veers off to the right, pump-fakes a shot and goes behind-the-back and scores.”

Fairman’s teammates went crazy, but his father questioned the thought process behind a behind-the-back, a move he learned from his two older brothers, Elias and Luke, who'd practice it in the yard back home.

He explained that the goalie had stuffed him twice at the crease in the game, and he needed to find a way to catch him off guard. The behind-the-back shot was not for looks — Fairman used it because he thought it was the best option available.

“That’s when I said, ‘Unbelievable. Here we go,’” Jay Fairman said. “I knew Bubba was heading for the big leagues.”

Bubba Fairman had just finished his first season in a budding Utah lacrosse scene, but he had already shown the instincts of a future college lacrosse player. It was a sign of things to come. Under his father’s guidance, Bubba Fairman continued to improve, blazing a trail as one of Utah’s best lacrosse players.


“It’s like 4, 3, 2 and what’s that little sucker do? He veers off to the right, pump fakes a shot and goes behind-the-back and scores.” - Jay Fairman on his son, Bubba


That trail led him to two state championships at Brighton High School, a junior year at the Calverton School (Md.) and a post-grad season at Deerfield Academy (Mass.) — eventually landing at College Park for his freshman season of college lacrosse.

After a three-goal, two-assist performance in the NCAA quarterfinals against Cornell last Sunday, Fairman and the Terps are headed to Gillette Stadium and a final four matchup with Duke. It’s the peak of an unlikely lacrosse journey that seems destined to continue for some time. 

“It’s literally the reason why I committed here,” Fairman said of Maryland advancing to championship weekend for the seventh time in eight years. “We work so hard and it’s incredible to see it pay off as we head to the final four.”

“Words can’t even explain how excited and happy I am for him,” Jay Fairman said. “He has made more sacrifices as a young kid to get where he is at. I get a lot of friends that say, ‘Bubba’s so lucky.’ No, Bubba’s not lucky. He has worked harder, all those years, than any kid I know.”

As a freshman, Fairman has had the luxury of learning under veterans like Tewaaraton finalist Connor Kelly and Tim Rotanz. Fairman sits second among freshmen on the team with 25 goals and nine assists. (Logan Wisnauskas, who redshirted for a season at Syracuse, has 33 goals and 14 assists.)

Terps coach John Tillman credits that veteran group, along with his coaches, with bringing Fairman’s group of freshmen up to speed as the season progressed.

“Our older players have done a really good job of bringing those guys along and helping them and instilling confidence. [Assistant coach Jesse Bernhardt] does a really good job, as well. They’re not walking on pins and needles and worried about making mistakes. It’s literally playing and learning and growing,” Tillman said. “Knowing that we had some young guys that were going to play this year, we kind of needed that.”

Fairman’s rise to becoming one of the nation’s top freshmen was as unlikely as it was important to the region. His talent helped shed more light on the area — one that is growing every year, especially with the soon-to-be Division I program at Utah.








Beginnings in Utah

Cole “Bubba” Matthew Fairman, born the youngest of three siblings, weighed in at 13 pounds at birth. That, and the fact that he didn’t lose his baby fat until late in elementary school, earned him the nickname that he now accepts. When he’s called his real name, he knows he’s in trouble.

“I was super fat as a kid,” he said. “I had the cheeks that rolled over the chin and I looked like the Michelin baby. I was just this chunky kid, so Bubba just stuck.”

As he grew up, Bubba and his brothers played traditional sports like football and baseball. But he didn’t excel and was tired of having to “swat butterflies” in the outfield.

Luckily for Bubba and his brothers, their father always had his eye on lacrosse. A former University of Utah football player, he had some experience with lacrosse through his time in Framingham, Mass.

Jay Fairman offered his kids a deal — quit baseball for a season to play lacrosse. If you don’t like it, you can go back to baseball. And so the Fairman boys set out to play a game scarce in popularity in Utah.

There was one hurdle, a relatively big one, to jump. Brighton offered one team for Elias’ age group, half a team for Luke, but there weren’t enough players to organize a team for Bubba.

“‘Forget that, I’ll start a team,’” Jay Fairman said. 

He called the local football leagues to recruit the top athletes from each team. Within a year, Brighton went from having two full teams to 12 youth teams. Bubba’s age group, third grade to fourth grade, had more than 20 kids represented.

From that point on, the Fairman brothers were lifers in the sport of lacrosse. Their father decided to build them a field on their one-acre lot, tilling up the lawn, clearing out the rocks and leveling ground to make sure his kids could play day-in and day-out.

It worked. Bubba and his brothers were outside every day, playing lacrosse. It helped that the Fairman household did not have cable.

Bubba's brothers strapped pillows to his body, put a helmet on him and stuck him in the cage to receive the brunt of rifled tennis balls. Such is the life of a younger sibling. Elias Fairman (Westminster) and Luke Fairman (Onondaga) both played collegiately and now coach at Park City High School, winning the boys’ and girls’ state championships this past weekend.

“We really used lacrosse as a way to get closer,” the youngest Fairman said. “We didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back now, we see it. Spending so much time together practicing one thing and always pushing each other was what made me really fall in love with the sport.”

Jay Fairman's love for the Maryland lacrosse teams of the 1970s transferred to his children. Bubba idolized Terps greats like Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Jesse Bernhardt. 

He continued improving and became one of Brighton’s best players as soon as he stepped onto the field as a freshman. He led his team to two Utah state championships and began getting interest from Division I schools like Bellarmine.

However, both Fairman and his father sought to push his game to the next level. Thus, he decided on traveling to the East Coast for his junior year boarding at The Calverton School (Md.). 

“‘This is your opportunity. How good are you? This is your chance.’” Jay Fairman said. “‘You’re going to the East Coast and playing against the best players, let’s see how well you do.’ He didn’t hesitate.”

Fairman flourished at The Calverton School and committed to Navy during his junior year. However, after going back to Utah the next summer, he had a change of heart. He said he wasn’t sure if he wanted the “military regimented” life of the Naval Academy, and decided to re-open his recruitment.

He played out his senior season at Brighton and received interest from Maryland — the school for which he and his father grew up cheering. Before he joined the Terps, he spent a year post-grad playing for Deerfield (Mass.), a suggestion due to the late nature of his recruiting.

But it was a no-brainer. Fairman, the Under Armour All-American who went viral with this “RKO” celebration, was headed to College Park, home of the newly crowned national champions.




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Fairman sits second among freshmen for the Terps with 25 goals and nine assists.


The Next Chapter

Fairman was hit with a flurry of media attention on Tuesday, as part of Maryland’s media day. It could have been predicted after his breakout five-point game against Cornell that sent the Terps to championship weekend yet again.

“Someone thought I was Connor Kelly and asked how I felt about being named to the Tewaaraton watch list,” he joked of his first final four media day experience.

It hasn’t all been this glamorous for Fairman, who arrived at College Park as a raw but talented freshman looking to improve. He immediately latched himself to veterans like Kelly and Rotanz, and vice versa.

He asked questions after every play, every drill, hoping to learn the ins and outs of the offense as fast as he could. What he began to notice, though, was that effort was more important than what appeared on the stat sheet.

It wasn’t more evident than in his collegiate debut against Navy on Feb. 10. Fairman, playing against the team to which he had originally committed, found himself on the ride, double-teaming goalie Ryan Kern alongside Jared Bernhardt. 

Kelly joined in and forced a turnover, which led to the put-away goal for the Terps. It was an eye-opening sequence for the young freshman.

“I was just thinking to myself, ‘Wow. It really is the little things that make a difference,’” he said.

Although he admitted he doesn’t know everything there is to know about the Maryland offense, Fairman said he began feeling more comfortable by the Penn game a couple weeks later.

He’s been steadily improving ever since, working with opportunities presented by defenses keying in on Kelly and others. He’s got a hat trick in three of Maryland’s past four games, helping the Terps as they push for a second straight title.

As soon as his son started to compete at Maryland, Jay Fairman finally got cable.

“It was like ‘Holy cow,’” he said. “I had to go out and buy a 55-inch plasma, had to get DirectTV, BTN, ESPN, ESPN2.”

Fairman wasn’t a part of last year’s title-winning squad, but he’s hoping to contribute on another one. All the while, he’ll be carrying the torch as one of Utah’s best players — a tribute to a budding lacrosse community that he cherishes.