The opening kickoff dropped into the hands of LSU running back Leonard Fournette in Saturday night’s game between the Tigers and Wisconsin Badgers and made the first tackler miss before the second player dropped him for a 13-yard gain.
There were no fireworks, no jaw-dropping jukes, no would-be tackler bowled over by a powerful shoulder and no walking on water for the highly-touted Fournette who began his college career with expectations as high as the upper deck in the NRG stadium in Houston.
Fournette was compared to Adrian Peterson during his time at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans by talent evaluators with recruiting services ranking him as the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class.
His running mate in the LSU backfield, Terrance Magee shared those Peterson comparisons to the future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back at SEC Media Days in January via The Times Picayune.
“I know you guys have seen (six-time NFL Pro Bowler) Adrian Peterson play. Peterson is the only running back that compares to Leonard. I feel I’m getting my opportunity to play with someone comparable to Adrian Peterson. Who wouldn’t want to play in the same backfield as that guy? — Terrance Magee on Leonard Fournette.
Peterson rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns in his first game for the Oklahoma Sooners in a win against Bowling Green a decade ago. Fournette finished with eight carries for 18 yards and a 2.3 yards per carry average and zero moments he was the “next big thing” in college football.”
He looked like a freshman who still had a long way to go before he could be the best running back on his own team as Kenny Hilliard was the featured back against Wisconsin. Hilliard had 93 rushing yards in the fourth quarter to lead LSU to the comeback win.
This was not supposed to happen. Not for the Pride of New Orleans. 18 yards on eight carries? That’s unthinkable. ESPN’s Bomani Jones shared the same disbelief as I and many I presume who were wondering what all the hype was about.
it’s not simply that fournette hasn’t played well. he looked kinda…regular. that seemed impossible.
— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) August 31, 2014
There was nothing short of running the opening kick back for a touchdown while stiff-arming 11 tacklers and running for 250 yards and four touchdowns that Fournette could have done to begin to realize the lofty expectations placed on him from the outside.
The infatuation with Fournette from the media, players, coaches and fans alike set Fournette up for failure.
CBS’ Gary Parrish thinks it is time to put the coming out party for Fournette on hold until he actually accomplished something on the gridiron before the hype train derails. The praise, hype and projections to one of the bet to ever play before suiting up for a game was premature and unfair.
I guess that freshman running back at LSU is gonna wait till next week to prove he’s the best running back in the history of running backs.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) August 31, 2014
Fournette’s head coach did not help Fournette ingratiate himself into the program and be like any other freshman when Les Miles compared his competitiveness and work ethic to Michael Jordan at SEC Media Days.
“He is quiet, he’s humble in his approach and that’s exactly where he needs to be. He expects himself to be something very special. If you look at Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any and I think he has a quiet confidence there that will benefit him.”
Fournette is far from an overrated bust who is the latest in a long line of five-star recruits to not pan out in college. He can be everything people think he can be. He has the drive, work ethic, frame at 6’1, 230-pounds, Miles said he is already the fastest player on the roster and he comes from a great family.
I’m not betting against Fournette who ran for 7,630 yards and 90 touchdowns in his high school career with runs like the ones in the gif below and neither should you.
Miles will take the kid gloves off Fournette over the course of the season and unleash him on the SEC when he’s ready.
The instant gratification people demand in today’s society leaves no time for players to develop and the first sign of trouble results in a player being labeled a disappointment or a bust.
Don’t hit the panic button. He doesn’t need to be Peterson to have a successful career at LSU or in the NFL. He can be the next Leonard Fournette and be a formidable player in his own right.
He can’t possibly live up to the hype of an Adrian Peterson-Michael Jordan hybrid. It’s unfair, unrealistic to put that burden on him that anything less than the best is a failure.
Fournette will have a second chance for a great first impression on Saturday when the Tigers welcome Sam Houston State to Tiger Stadium and should find much more running room and get more run as Miles unleashes the player he jokingly says he offered a scholarship to in the third grade.
The next big thing can take the college football world by storm and the storm clouds are preparing to gather outside Baton Rouge and Death Valley.