By Trey Mongrue
The first year goals of most freshmen who come into a high-profile football program like LSU consist of not getting redshirted, making the two-deep depth chart and possibly playing in a couple of games. If he’s really thinking big, maybe even score a few touchdowns.
But if you haven’t picked up on it from his 6-foot-1, 230-pound physique, the all-out recruiting war, the nationally televised high school games and, of course, the “Buga Nation” hand signals, it’s safe to say that Leonard Fournette isn’t the typical incoming freshman.
Because of that, his goals for his first year as an LSU Tiger are slightly different.
“For my first year, I want to be a one thousand yard rusher, All-SEC, All-American and hopefully be a Heisman Trophy candidate,” he said at LSU Media Days on Sunday.
If those words were spoken out of any other true freshman’s mouth, the immediate public response is that he is cocky. But as sophomore cornerback Rashard Robinson quickly learned on LSU’s first day of Fall Camp, the hype for Fournette may be warranted.
“He’s going to be a good one, he’s going to be a really good one,” Robinson said with wry smile like he knew something that the rest of the world didn’t. “He’s a big guy, but he’s fast, strong and also really agile. I can’t wait to see him play.
“To be honest, the other teams better be ready to come with it when he gets the ball.”
Like probably many other LSU players, Robinson had his concerns that the hype train of Fournette meant that the Tigers’ were adding a prima donna to the mix. But that could not be further from the truth.
Instead, LSU is adding a powerful north-south running back that can catch out of the backfield and is also not afraid to block.
“He didn’t come in here cocky or anything like that,” recalled Robinson. “He’s a very humble dude and a hard worker. He has put in the same amount of work as anybody else and we go a hundred and ten percent everyday.”
The thing is, Fournette has no choice but to be modest because he knows things can change in an instance. That’s something he learned from growing up in the 7th Ward of New Orleans.
Coming from that environment and being thrust into the LSU spotlight where he is hailed as a hero before even setting foot on the Tiger Stadium grass, he still gets a kick out of little kids asking for his autograph.
“The place where I’m from, most people my age don’t make it out from there,” said Fournette, who wears No. 7 to represent his 7th Ward roots. “I’m just thankful.”
On top of that, if there is one thing that Fournette wants everybody to know about him, it is that he is ready to put in the work to make sure that he lives up to the immense hype.
“I’m not big headed, I’ve always been humble,” he said. “That’s something I’m going to continue to do throughout my college career. I’m about hard work and it starts right now.”
Despite growing up in Louisiana, Fournette was never a fan of LSU – or any team for that matter – as a kid.
His first contact with the Tigers started when running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson called him up during his first year at St. Augustine High School.
“[Wilson] saw me at the beginning of my freshman year after I had a good game against McDonogh 35,” he recalled. “He told me to just keep up the good work, but they didn’t offer me yet.”
From that point on, Fournette’s relationship with LSU continued to strengthen, but so did his prowess as a running back.
Following a couple of 2,000 yard rushing seasons and back-to-back Gatorade Player of the Year Awards, seemingly every major college football program was knocking down Fournette’s door with hopes of landing the nation’s top high school recruit.
By the time he was set to announce his final decision during the 2014 Under Armour All-American Game in Tampa, Fla., Fournette held scholarship offers from more than 20 schools. However, it came down to just two teams – LSU and Southeastern Conference rival Alabama – with the Tigers winning the race in the end.
“They made me feel at home,” he said of choosing LSU. “They want the best for everyone that goes here.”
Now in Baton Rouge, Fournette is eager to learn and improve his craft as a running back. When he first arrived on campus, the first people he sought out were senior running backs Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee.
“Terrence and Kenny have taught me everything,” Fournette explained. “Whether it’s on blocking or just getting to know the playbook. Those guys are like brothers to me now.”
It has become a point of pride for Magee.
Not only was he recently selected to wear the esteemed No. 18 which signifies the team’s leader, but he also remembers the guys that showed him the ropes when he came to LSU as a freshman back in 2011. Now a veteran, he wants to pass on his knowledge and experiences to better prepare Fournette for the rigors that come with the college football lifestyle.
“When I came in, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford were like my big brothers and they helped me get to where I am today,” said Magee. “For me to have the opportunity to help him progress and have him do the same for someone in the future is great.”
In spending that extra time with Fournette, Magee has quickly picked up on just how good his new teammate could potentially be.
“The biggest thing is his burst,” he said of Fournette. “The speed and aggression that he runs with is just unbelievable. You hardly see a guy who has the total package like that. As long as he just continues to progress and learn, I think he is going to go on and do great things here.”
Of course, the transition from high school star to college freshman hasn’t been totally smooth for Fournette. He still has to do the usual rookie things like bring his older teammates water, help gather up the balls after practice and be the constant butt of Robinson and junior linebacker Kwon Alexander’s jokes.
But as far as the actual football side of things go, Fournette is still getting used to how much quicker the college game is.
“The game is much faster than in high school,” he explained. “Holes could be really wide open one second and they will close up in that same amount of time.”
However, he has yet to receive a big hit from someone on defense during practice.
“It’s going to come,” he laughed. “I’m just waiting on it.”
The scary thing is, maybe those hits in practice have come; he just hasn’t felt them.
If that is the case, Robinson is right. The college football world better be ready for the arrival of Leonard Fournette.