Barton Simmons remembers hearing in 2010 about a running back at St. Augustine in New Orleans running roughshod over opponents.
The stories were growing, almost taking on a Paul Bunyan-esque legend.
Eventually, the national recruiting analyst at 247Sports didn’t need to hear the stories or listen to the ever-growing fable of Leonard Fournette.
“I came and I was watching (future LSU players) Jonah Austin, Trai Turner and all the other studs that were at St. Aug and this kid that looked like a sophomore in college was running circles around some really talented New Orleans athletes,” Simmons said. “I got to see it first-hand. I got to see that the hype was real.”
Fournette’s first four games went like this – with 238 yards rushing and three touchdowns, 241 yards and two scores, 209 yards rushing and four TDs and 249 yards and four more dashes into the end zone.
He had 13 touchdowns on 95 carries, or every 7.3 touches. He averaged a first down on every run.
He was only 15.
Four years later, the legend isn’t shrinking.
Fournette, now 19, was awarded the 247Sports Composite Player of the Year Award in the library at St. Augustine on Monday.
LSU, where Fournette will officially sign to play during National Signing Day, is getting the nation’s top player as rated by most national recruiting services.
It also might be getting the nation’s most well-rounded high school senior, too.
What makes Fournette better than any other player is his approach to the game and life.
He could be braggadocious. He could be arrogant. He could be a malcontent and a rabble-rouser.
Instead, he’s none of those.
“Sometimes me and him are eating and young kids come up and talk to him,” said Cyril Crutchfield, the Purple Knights’ head coach. “He tries to put them in a positive direction. It’s not that he’s bigger than them.”
Or, as few star athletes would do as teenagers, he deflects the praise onto his parents and his teammates.
“For myself and for my parents, it means a lot, that my hard work paid off,” Fournette said when asked what the 247Sports award meant. “And for St. Augustine and my teammates, I thank them for helping me get this award. I didn’t run by myself, block by myself. It was a team effort. I just thank my teammates.”
Wait. Really? You didn’t do any of the running and scoring this season?
“It’s not like I threw the ball in the air, block this person, block this person, caught it and run for a touchdown,” Fournette said. “It’s a team effort.”
But it’s not just with his teammates that he exposes that thoughtful nature. When awarded with the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club’s Prep Player of the Year Award, he handed it over to another player, NOLA.com reported afterward.
It’s that kind of others-first mentality that Les Miles will be inheriting when Fournette steps on campus.
It’s that kind of others-first mentality that made Fournette the overwhelming choice to be the nation’s top recruit.
There’s little concern that mentality will change when he trades in one set of purple and gold school colors for another.
“When you get a kid like Leonard who has no red flags off the field, is a humble kid, is a hard-working kid, doesn’t have a circus around whether it be with his recruitment or any off the field issues – those are the type of guys that give us so much more confidence to rank them at the top of all our lists,” Simmons said. “The talent is undeniable but when you add in the off-the-field character, those are the guys that make it.”
Crutchfield has another reason Miles and LSU fans should feel so happy that Fournette has decided to ply his trade in Baton Rouge.
Once a day this autumn, he would have Fournette alone for a physical education period. The coach sacrificed a planning period to make it happen but in doing so, helped the player and the team improve off the field.
It was during this time that the high school player watched film, learning things that would help not just him but his teammates during games. And what he saw, he passed along to Crutchfield, sometimes at 10 o’clock at night.
“I could be in P.E. playing basketball, but instead, I take my time out for the team and for myself just to try to make us better and in order for us to get the W,” Fournette said. “The little things that I see, what a certain player doesn’t do or if he takes plays off or just to get them to change up plays so we can have a better advantage over a team.”
That’s why the legend of Fournette continues to grow.