Despite one bad game in 2015, The legend of LSU star RB Leonard Fournette continues to grow. As a result, the world should see it in full bloom for 2016.
New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth once said that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. It’s a statement that has held true in the world of sports for decades. There are many sports heroes we remember, but the legends are the ones who have staues built for them. In the case of LSU star Leonard Fournette, the quest to go from hero to legend is one that could reach its apex during the 2016 college football season.
Fournette’s place in history takes us back to 2010. He immediately put the football world on notice as a freshman starter for St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, where he finished the season with over 2,500 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. His reward for the stellar season was becoming the first freshman to receive a scholarship offer from LSU. He followed up that season by rushing for 1,900 yards and 27 TDs.
As a junior, Fournette broke the 2,000-rushing yard benchmark again with 2,135 yards. He also scored 31 TDs and received many accolades. Not only did he win the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year award, but he was also named the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year. As a senior, Leonard became the first player in state history to win the Gatorade POY award a second time. He finished that season with 1,762 rushing yards and 16 TDs. Additionally, he registered 45 catches for 745 yards and six TDs. His ranking as the top prospect in his class according to ESPN was proof of his growing legacy.
His hype train and talents are going to Baton Rouge.
After announcing his decision to attend LSU, the Fournette hype grew along with the list of his NFL comparisons. One comparison is with Minnesota Vikings star RB Adrian Peterson. Peterson will end his career as one of the greatest backs to ever play. He is the single-game record holder for most rushing yards with 296. He is also a former Offensive Rookie of the Year and league MVP. Therefore, it’s a lofty comparison and comes with a lot of pressure.
Another comparison is with an old and a new star in the NFL: Indianapolis Colts RB Frank Gore and Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley. Specifically, the comparison refers to Gore’s younger days with the San Francisco 49ers.
In his 10 years with the 49ers, Gore ran for 1,000-plus yards in eight of them. As for Gurley, he quickly became a star for the Rams by rushing for 1,100-plus yards and 10 TDs as a rookie in 2015. This led to him being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler.
Other big-time comparisons include Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Marcus Dupree and Ricky Williams. All of them not only had great college careers, but some of them went on to have productive NFL careers as well. In short, there was a lot for Leonard to live up to when he arrived in Baton Rouge.
It was a good start, but the road was bumpy.
Fournette’s freshman campaign wasn’t an instant success at the beginning. He ran for only 18 yards against the Wisconsin Badgers in his first game. In his next five games, he surpassed 100 rushing yards only once. It’s not the start that Fournette was hoping for, but things would soon change for the better. After being announced as the starter in a road game against the Florida Gators, Fournette exploded for 140 rushing yards and two TDs. After that, he made his presence felt against no. 3-ranked Ole Miss with 113 rushing yards in LSU’s upset 10-7 win.
Although he was slowly showing his potential, he really went on a flurry in his last two games as a freshman. He ran for 146 yards and a TD against Texas A&M in a game where he ran over one of the Aggie defenders and it earned him a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10. Fournette concluded the season by running for 143 yards and two TDs against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. His performance included an 89-yard scoring run and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Fournette ended his inaugural season as an All-SEC Freshman Team selection. Along with scoring 10 TDs, he also broke a school freshman record by rushing for 1,034 yards. This was achieved with only 187 carries and six games as a starter. Despite a small camp of doubters, he proved that the hype was real and everyone should expect greater things the next season.
He controlled the Heisman Trophy race, but stumbled and lost the lead.
Fournette’s sophomore year was sensational. He kicked off the year with a bang by rushing for 159 yards and three TDs against Mississippi State. Fournette followed up that performance with three straight games where he eclipsed 220 rushing yards. It was the first time that an SEC player achieved such a feat. He scored nine more TDs during that span and took the early lead in the Heisman Trophy race.
His dominance continued by running for 488 yards and four TDs over his next three games. It got to the point where he looked like the obvious Heisman winner. However, all of that changed with one unfortunate night in Tuscaloosa. LSU lost their high-profile game against Alabama by a score of 30-16. However, more was lost than just the contest.
The Tigers lost most of their hope for national championship contention. Additionally, Fournette lost his bid for the Heisman. The Crimson Tide held the star running back to an underwhelming 31 rushing yards on 19 carries. He did score a TD, but it clearly wasn’t enough.
Fournette got back on track over the following two weeks, but the team didn’t as they lost both games. They went from losing most of their championship hope to losing all of it. Fournette also got reduced to watching the Heisman Trophy ceremony from his couch. To add insult to injury, he had to watch Alabama’s Derrick Henry win the award after breaking Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing record.
Despite the disappointment, Fournette ended his sophomore year on a very high note. He ran for 212 yards and four TDs against Texas Tech in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl. Fournette also reeled in a 44-yard reception for a TD. His performance tied a NCAA bowl record for most total TDs in a game.
The time is now for Fournette to grow his legacy.
The LSU star finished the 2015 season as a Consensus First-Team All-American. His 1,953 yards and 22 TDs also broke LSU single-season rushing records. He also broke another school record for being the fastest player to reach 2,000 yards for his career. He proved once again that the hype behind him is real.
Entering the 2016 season, Fournette is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. LSU is also ranked fifth in the AP preseason poll. This means that the Tigers are a very strong favorite to contend for a national championship. If everything goes according to plan, there will be plenty to celebrate in Baton Rouge.
Legends usually have to face defeat and adversity before becoming someone special. Fournette dealt with doubters as a freshman and Alabama’s defense as a sophomore. All the while, he was breaking or setting school and NCAA records.
Heading into what will most likely be his final year, the setting is perfect for Leonard Fournette to leave an indelible mark on the college football world. It should surprise no one if he rushes for more than 2,000 yards, 25-plus TDs and unanimously wins the Heisman. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if he is the main reason for LSU being in the national championship game and possibly winning it.
It’s a lot of pressure to place on the shoulders of a 21-year old, but he can handle it. All we have to do now is sit back and watch him make history before he leaves for the NFL.