It only took Leonard Fournette two games to proclaim to the world that he wasn’t just another highly touted running back recruit. No, LSU’s true freshman took his place as the heir to Earl Campbell, Herschel Walker, and Reggie Bush’s title as college tailback megastar, and he made sure there was no doubt about it when he did, midway through the first quarter against Sam Houston State.
Fournette darts to his right tackle, and without even turning his head notices a hole opening up in the middle of the field. He hops to his right, cuts hard, and then he’s off, chugging along when a defensive back jumps on him. Fournette doesn’t even slow down, The defender just bounces off of him. He keeps going without missing a stride, and another tackler comes. This time he sticks. Fournette runs with the defender draped over him like a necklace for 8 yards before finally coming down. First and goal from the four.
And he was only 19.
In the two seasons since, runs like that have become the norm while watching LSU. There was the time he laid out a Texas A&M player before scoring a touchdown, or the time he simply outran the entire Syracuse defense. To say that he makes college football look like a video game would be wrong: video game running backs don’t use themselves as launching pads to send players tumbling through the air. He’s the best player in college football bar none, a physical freak who will juke you or truck you or do both at once.
He did all this and ran for nearly 2,000 yards last year all while being the center point of LSU’s offense. With spotty quarterback play behind him, everyone knew that Fournette would be getting the ball. He still made defense look silly.
And that offensive scheme looked as unstoppable as the man behind it last year. With a dominant defense giving him a boost, Fournette led the Tigers to the number two ranking in the country when they travelled to Tuscaloosa for a Week 7 showdown against Alabama. When LSU’s running back stuttered, the Tigers followed suit. Fournette was smothered by the Crimson Tide defense, and Alabama running back Derrick Henry put on a show of his own, a 210-yard outburst that sent his Heisman campaign into high gear.
LSU and Fournette never recovered. They lost their next two games, making any College Football Playoff dreams impossible.
Now, those dreams are back. LSU is ranked 5th in the AP preseason poll, and their November rematch against Alabama has already been dubbed the game of the year. LSU returns a strong defense and still lacks a proven quarterback, but nobody is talking about any of that. The praise, it seems, begins and ends with Leonard Fournette.
How could it not? It’s impossible not to talk about Fournette. He steals your attention and holds it, and then throws in a spin move or two. He does it all while carrying an entire team along with him. If he’s up to it, LSU will win a title. If not, the season will end again at the Texas Bowl. It’s as simple as that.
Football, it’s said over and over again, is the ultimate team sport. Teams win and lose together, in synch on blocking schemes and blitzes and routes. Leonard Fournette is out to prove that isn’t necessarily the case. On the offensive side of the ball at least, he’s seeking to completely disrupt everything we consider fact in football. He’s aiming to win the SEC by himself. And Les Miles will let him try, calling dives, counters and draws for all four quarters.
In retrospect, that play of his against Sam Houston State as a freshman was telling. He carried that defender with him so far, only to come up just short of the goal line. Two years later, we’re about to see if he can carry the load all the way to pay dirt.