Fournette announced on Friday that he would not be playing in LSU's Citrus Bowl matchup with Louisville on New Year's Eve. Just two weeks after announcing he would be leaving early for the NFL Draft, this announcement officially ended his career with the Tigers.
It seems like just yesterday when Leonard Fournette—the nation’s top recruit in 2014—put on an LSU cap on live TV and announced that he would be coming to Baton Rouge.
The drama and anticipation that built up to that moment was palpable. It created such an organically triumphant moment for LSU fans as they celebrated at least a small victory over Alabama and saw hope ahead.
Like his arrival back in 2014, Fournette’s exit from LSU came in front of cameras and reporters as he spoke about his intentions on a microphone.
But this time, there was no climactic excitement or rays of hope. There was only dreadful realization that this was the end of the road.
Fournette announced on Friday that he would not be playing in LSU’s Citrus Bowl matchup with Louisville on New Year’s Eve. Just two weeks after announcing he would be leaving early for the NFL Draft, this announcement officially ended his career with the Tigers.
The 2015 season was a near masterpiece for Fournette. It was simply the greatest year a running back has ever had at LSU.
For much of the season, he was the Heisman front-runner as he reeled off three straight performances of more than 200 yards rushing.
He went on to break Charles Alexander’s school record for most rushing yards in a single season as he piled up 1,953 and 22 touchdowns, despite the Tigers having their opener against McNeese State cancelled.
It translated into him being one of the top preseason favorites for the Heisman in 2016. It also looked like he was on pace to claiming the school’s career rushing title.
Then, before the year even began, Fournette sustained an ankle injury that would end up hampering his entire season, and ultimately, ending his collegiate career one game sooner than expected.
The injury happened at practice. It was hoped he would be fine in time for the opener against Wisconsin.
For a while, that looked to be the case, but in the Tigers’ second-to-last offensive play of the game, the ankle was re-injured in an eventual LSU loss.
It was just the beginning of a frustrating year for Fournette.
He ended up sitting out against Jacksonville State, and though he played against Mississippi State, you could tell he was far from 100 percent.
In the loss to Auburn, he re-aggravated the injury—forcing him to miss the next two games.
When he did return against Ole Miss, he was able to recapture the magic of 2015 as he scintillated the crowd with three touchdown runs of 59, 76 and 78 yards, respectively.
By the end of the night, he had set a new school record for most single-game rushing yards with 284 on just 16 carries.
Unfortunately, the magic was taken away soon afterward. Against Arkansas, the ankle gave out again.
He was supposed to sit out the next week against Florida, but he decided to play at the last minute. Clearly hobbled, Fournette only carried the ball 12 times for 41 yards.
He sat out the regular season finale against Texas A&M.
Now, with no bowl game, the Fournette era has come and gone at LSU.
What an amazing era it was. He finishes with 3,830 rushing yards (fourth in school history) and 40 touchdowns (tied for third). He also has the school record for best yard-per-carry average with 6.19 and yards per game with 119.68.
But still, there is that heavy “what if” cloud that will always loom over Fournette’s legacy.
What if he was given more opportunities his freshman year?
What if he never injured that ankle before the start of 2016? Could he have won the Heisman?
How many rushing yards could he have piled up? How many yards could he have amassed if he had a complimentary passing game?
These are the questions that us LSU fans will torturously ask ourselves for years to come.
One thing that’s not questionable is his legacy as one of the best running backs to ever play in Baton Rouge. He’s certainly the most talented back the Tigers have ever had in the backfield.
It’s just unfortunate that his ankle injury cheated him out of his full potential. He could have rewrote the LSU history books in just three seasons of play.
Hopefully, he can stay healthy and have a long, successful career in the NFL.
Though his LSU career ended on a disappointing note, I’m thankful he even decided to play for the Tigers, when he could have gone anywhere else in the country.
I’m thankful for the way he fought hard to get back on the field this year, when he could have easily shut it down as he looked ahead to his NFL future.
I’m thankful for the way he represented LSU as both a player and a man. Thank you, Leonard Fournette.