At LSU, blockers energized by Fournette’s powerful presence
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Leonard Fournette won’t answer a question about any of his game-breaking runs without showering praise upon his blockers, which means No.7 LSU might have the most compliment-drenched linemen and fullback in college football right now.
The Tigers in the trenches appreciate the credit they get from a player who is arguably LSU’s best candidate for a Heisman Trophy since Billy Cannon won it in 1959. And while they try to block well regardless of who carries the ball, they acknowledge that clearing a path for Fournette can be especially rewarding for more reasons than the way he talks about them when the microphones are on.
”When you’re a lineman and your running back is running that hard, it’s fun to block for him,” LSU center Ethan Pocic said. ”It makes you want to block harder.
”What he says is nice and stuff,” Pocic added, ”but at the end of the day, he puts so much into the team, you know, like getting 20-plus carries a game, that means the most.”
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette has virtually carried LSU to a 4-0 start with runs that have put his rare combination of bone-jarring power, speed and agility on full display. He has piled up 864 yards and 11 touchdowns, giving him Southeastern Conference-leading averages of 216 yards and 16.5 points per game.
But as Fournette himself is quick to point out, he’s had some sizeable holes to burst through at the line of scrimmage. That allows Fournette to avoid contact with the defensive linemen who significantly outweigh him, and gives the running back the momentum to plow through linebackers and bowl over smaller defensive backs with devastating effect. That is, if he doesn’t simply leave them in the dust with a cutback into the open field.
Last weekend, Fournette became the first running back in the history of the Southeastern Conference – which was founded in 1933 – to rush for more than 200 yards in a game for three straight contests.
”It’s special,” LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander said. ”He’s a once in a lifetime type of player.”
When Fournette was asked about the achievement, he made it a team thing, as usual.
”It’s a special feeling, knowing we made history as a unit,” Fournette said. ”It’s not just me. They made history with me, and I congratulate them and thank them for protecting and blocking for me.”
During another recent interview, Fournette responded to a question about his extraordinary performances by saying he thanks God – not only for his own talent, but for the talent around him.
”Without my line or my fullback, I’m nothing,” Fournette said. ”I can’t block those 11 guys by myself and run the ball. They’re doing a tremendous job and I thank them every day.”
In the pros, elite skill players have been known to thank their blockers with gifts, or by taking them out for dinner, as quarterback Drew Brees does with the Saints offensive line. College students don’t really have the budget for that, but Fournette has been known to make similar gestures. Pocic said Fournette has shown up for morning meetings with takeout breakfasts that he handed out to LSU’s linemen.
”He looks out for us,” Pocic said. ”We don’t really expect that out of him as a college student. A scholarship only covers so much.”
In each of his last three games, Fournette has come within 25 yards of breaking Alley Broussard’s single-game LSU rushing record of 250 yards, set in 2004. Fournette spent most of fourth quarter resting on the bench in two of those games. In the other, at Syracuse, he had an 87-yard touchdown wiped out by a receiver’s illegal formation penalty.
Fournette said he doesn’t really care about setting records, ”as long as we’re winning,” and his teammates believe him.
”We want to win games more than anything, and you know (the single-game LSU rushing record) might fall into it eventually,” Alexander said. ”If it doesn’t, we’ll be happy with just a W, and he’ll be happy with just a W. He’s a humble guy. He’s not worried about that. We probably want it for him more than he wants it for himself.”
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org