Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE Psst, remember that long touchdown run freshman Leonard Fournette broke on a 'busted' play against the 'scout' team in a recent scrimmage that LSU coach Les Miles discussed?
So what if it was a busted play, and it was against the first team defense not the scout team.
Fournette, the No. 1 tailback in the nation out of St. Augustine High in New Orleans, fared well against one of the Southeastern Conference's best defenses during preseason practices. He will try the Big Ten on Saturday when No. 13 LSU plays No. 14 Wisconsin in Houston at 8:10 p.m. on ESPN.
No debut of an LSU tailback has been more hotly anticipated since Kevin Faulk, one of the top backs in the nation out of Carencro High, gained 73 yards on 14 carries in a 33-17 loss at Texas A&M in his first collegiate game on Sept. 2, 1995. Faulk, just 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, is the last LSU tailback to be named a first team All-American, though he made it as an All-Purpose player in 1996. He is LSU's all-time leading rusher with 4,557 yards in four seasons.
Fournette also cannot wait until Saturday either.
'That's all I've been thinking about,' he said. 'Just getting there, my first time playing on the collegiate level. So, I'm just ready.'
Ready or not, at 6-1 and 224 pounds, Fournette may be the biggest and fastest back LSU has had since 6-1, 219-pound Billy Cannon of Istrouma High in Baton Rouge won the school's only Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1959. He was also a consensus first team All-American tailback in 1958 and '59. LSU's only other consensus first team All-American tailback was Charles Alexander of Galveston, Texas, in 1978 and '79. He was 6-1 and 224 pounds like Fournette, but he did not have the same speed.
'But there's no reason for him to think about winning the Heisman tomorrow, okay, or certainly Thursday, or for that matter before the game,' said LSU coach Les Miles, who signed Fournette despite a push from Alabama. 'Just make a contribution, do the things that you're slated to do. He's going to want the opportunity to do everything that he can do.'
And yes, that includes another Heisman for LSU.
'I plan on winning the Heisman my freshman year and hopefully a BCS national championship,' Fournette said on Jan. 2 when he chose the Tigers over the Tide.
'It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but at the end of the day, I felt like LSU was the best place for me,' he said. 'Not just for football, but the people made me feel at home everywhere I went.'
Fournette has since tempered his Heisman boast. 'For my freshman year 1,000-yard rusher, All-American, All-SEC and hopefully Heisman candidate,' he said.
He has backed up his talk on the practice field.
'He is pretty hard to bring down,' LSU defensive end Jermauria Rasco said. 'He has a lot of acceleration and power.'
Senior tailback Terrence Magee will lose carries to Fournette, but then he has seen him run, too. 'Who wouldn't want to play on his team?' Magee said.
Some LSU defenders would agree.
'He's competing like heck, and he wants the opportunity to contribute,' Miles said. 'It would be my suggestion that he's taken hits against a pretty good defense at LSU. So he'll be able to do things that he's capable of doing, and the great thing about a guy like Leonard is he's humble. He takes coaching all the time. He wants to be a very good player and a real quality teammate.'
Miles has not seen Fournette play in a college game yet, but already he does not buy the popular comparisons to six-time Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson of Minnesota via Oklahoma. No, Fournette's better.
'I don't want to preempt a performance by saying something that, frankly, he'll probably exceed,' Miles said. 'I guess my point is, I'm going to let him define who he is.'