LSU's Leonard Fournette wants title more than Heisman

LSU's Leonard Fournette wants title more than Heisman

July 23rd, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes against Texas Tech during the first half of the Texas Bowl NCAA football game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Houston. LSU won 56-27. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Photo by Bob Levey

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes past Texas Tech defensive back Keenon Ward (15) during the second half of the Texas Bowl NCAA football game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Houston. LSU won 56-27. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes past...

Photo by Bob Levey

LSU

Last season: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field (3:30 p.m. on ABC)

Fun fact: LSU senior center Ethan Pocic had 132.5 knockdown blocks last year, which is the highest single-season total since the Tigers began keeping records in that category.

COMING SUNDAY: Ole Miss

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Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Leonard Fournette is still learning as he goes.

As a freshman in 2014, the dazzling running back for the LSU Tigers struck the Heisman Trophy pose after a meaningless early-season touchdown against Sam Houston State, which resulted in some unpleasant words from coach Les Miles on the sideline.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder was running away in the Heisman Trophy race last season, but he fell abruptly from his lofty perch after being held to 31 yards on 19 carries in a 30-16 loss at Alabama. Crimson Tide counterpart Derrick Henry shredded the Tigers for 210 yards and received the prestigious award a month later, while LSU spiraled to three straight November losses and had to settle for a trip to the Texas Bowl.

"Even though last year was kind of a disappointment, we still learned a lesson," Fournette said last week at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "Never think you're too much, or else you can be beat. Just keep God first, and everything else will follow.

"I don't question anything as far as last year. We have a bunch of starters coming back, and we'll see what this season holds."

The former USA Today national offensive player of the year has been nothing short of sensational during his two years in Baton Rouge, rushing for 1,034 yards as a freshman and a staggering 1,953 as a sophomore. Fournette's rushing total last year occurred in just 12 games — LSU had its opener against McNeese State scratched by lightning delays — and his 162.8 yards per contest led the nation.

No SEC player had led the nation in rushing yards per game since John Dottley of Ole Miss in 1949. Former Georgia Bulldogs star Herschel Walker holds the league's single-season record for rushing yards per game with 171.9 in 1981, but USC's Marcus Allen led the nation that year.

Fournette jumped to the Heisman forefront in September with 228 yards on 19 carries in a 45-21 pummeling of Auburn. Leading up to the game, Auburn defensive back Johnathan Ford made headlines by saying it should not be that difficult to bring down Fournette.

On the first play from scrimmage, Fournette broke free for a 71-yard gain.

"It was a great game," Fournette said. "As far as the talking trash, I wasn't really worried about it, because I've been dealing with that my whole life. The other players took it kind of personal, and that's my team at the end of the day.

"They have my back just like I have their backs."

The most memorable play from that game was when Auburn safety Tray Matthews tried to tackle Fournette up high but was brushed quickly to the ground on a 29-yard scoring run early in the third quarter.

"It's a tough task to bring him down, as you can tell from watching him on TV," LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said.

LSU entered Thanksgiving week uncertain if Miles would be back for a 12th year, but Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva voiced his support following a 19-7 win over Texas A&M in the regular-season finale at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers entered their bowl expected to plow through Texas Tech and did just that. Fournette had four rushing touchdowns and one receiving score in a 56-27 laugher.

Optimism for the upcoming season is through the roof with nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense. LSU has been picked second in the West, behind Alabama and in front of Ole Miss, and the Tigers play both of those teams at home.

Having accomplished so much as a sophomore — even auctioning off a game jersey to help flood victims in South Carolina — Fournette has established his primary goal for the upcoming season.

It has nothing to do with the Heisman that got away a year ago.

"Any individual award will take care of itself," said Fournette, who is scheduled to graduate next month. "The main thing is to win a national championship. I would love to bring it back home to Louisiana."

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