LSU tailback Fournette ready for super sophomore year

LSU tailback Fournette ready for super sophomore year

July 26th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, shown here powering through Texas A&M's defense for a touchdown last November, rushed for 1,034 yards as a touted freshman.

Photo by David J. Phillip

Maybe it was all the hype leading up to his freshman season.

Perhaps the disappointing debut against Wisconsin led to the decision.

LSU

Last season: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 5 vs. McNeese State (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network Alternate)

Fun fact: LSU is the only SEC team to win at least eight games each of the past 10 seasons, with all 10 of those occurring under coach Les Miles.

COMING MONDAY

Mississippi State

Whatever the motivation, LSU tailback Leonard Fournette flashed the Heisman Trophy pose in the second game of his college career. That it occurred in a 56-0 September rout of Sam Houston State didn't help the brash display.

"It kind of happened in the moment," Fournette said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "It was my first collegiate touchdown, and I was excited. It was selfish of me, because I could have celebrated with the team."

Fournette apologized to his teammates in a meeting after the game, and he will never forget coming back to the sideline after his inaugural score and dealing with Tigers coach Les Miles.

"He said, 'We have to talk,'" a grinning Fournette recalled. "That's what he told me."

Fournette eventually flourished, as the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from New Orleans bounced back from an eight-carry, 18-yard opening performance against the Badgers in Houston to rush for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and his total set an LSU freshman record.

Averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns helped enable Fournette to lead the SEC with 137.4 all-purpose yards per game, and the more he played the more everyone realized that his Heisman pose was a one-time gaffe.

"He's one of those guys who's a hard worker and doesn't speak much, but he truly is a leader of our team," Miles said. "He's a guy that does the work in the classroom and the work in the weight room, and when we talk about our team goals and the direction of this team, he's the guy who's integral to those thoughts."

Rivals.com's top tailback nationally in the 2014 signing class, Fournette has a lot more on his plate entering his second season in Baton Rouge. He has a 6-month-old daughter to look after as well as a younger brother, Lanard, who is a 5-10, 185-pound freshman tailback on the LSU roster.

On the preseason All-SEC team, Fournette beat out Alabama's Derrick Henry for a first-team spot alongside Georgia's Nick Chubb, but Fournette is quick to declare himself inferior to the fellow sophomore for the Bulldogs.

"He's the best running back we have in the SEC right now," Fournette said. "He's better than me. I'm trying to reach where he's at right now."

When asked why he was so adamant that Chubb is better, he said, "Watch the film. Watch the highlights. They speak for themselves."

Fournette is among eight returning starters on LSU's offense, but those include quarterback Anthony Jennings, who was suspended this summer for unlawful entry of an apartment. Brandon Harris is the quarterback for now, but this was an erratic position last year that led to an 8-5 record instead of the expected 10-win season.

Six starters return on a defense that is also a potential concern following the departure of coordinator John Chavis to SEC West foe Texas A&M. Replacing Chavis is Kevin Steele, who spent the past three seasons as Alabama's inside linebackers coach and was Clemson's defensive coordinator before that.

LSU should be able to ease into the season with an opener against McNeese State, but the Tigers travel to Mississippi State for their second contest.

Fournette's first season really took off midway through the year at Florida, when he rushed 27 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns. By the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame, he was producing a highlight seemingly every play, rushing for 143 yards and making a 100-yard kickoff return.

"I feel like I'm 10 times better compared to last year," Fournette said. "Against Notre Dame, the game completely slowed down for me, and I feel like I've gained an edge."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.