Leonard Fournette, injured and out of shape, is still ‘amazing’

LSU running back Leonard Fournette works to ignite crowd after running for a touchdown against Ole Miss on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette works to ignite crowd after running for a touchdown against Ole Miss on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. The Advocate

He’s out of shape, having gained weight while he was injured.

He didn’t have his starting fullback — his “flashlight,” as he calls him.

And he’s not 100 percent, still bothered by a lingering left ankle injury.

Despite all of that, the result for LSU running back Leonard Fournette on Saturday night: the school’s single-game rushing record.

“It’s just amazing,” defensive lineman Davon Godchaux said.

Fournette’s 284-yard outing in a 38-21 win over Ole Miss buzzed well into Sunday. LSU’s star junior from New Orleans made the performance even more unbelievable by revealing, during a 10-minute post-game news conference, some of the aforementioned information.

The ankle injury — a bone bruise compounded by a low and high sprain — is not fully healed, and he’s up to 233 pounds, above his normal playing weight of 225 to 230. Meanwhile, J.D. Moore, LSU’s starting fullback, missed the final three and a half quarters with an injury, forcing into action sophomore Bry’Kiethon Mouton.

None of that slowed Fournette on his three-touchdown, record-breaking night — a feel-good game for a player so recently removed from what he called the toughest stretch of his football career. He has never dealt with such a significant injury in all of his football-playing days, he said. His mother, Lory, texted him a scripture passage before Saturday’s game, knowing full well her son would play through the pain.

“It told me to keep faith and not worry about my injury,” Fournette said. “That’s what I did.”

The injuries

Fournette suffered a high and low ankle sprain and a bone bruise during the second week of preseason camp.

“It never really healed,” he said, appearing to reinjure the ankle in the season opener against Wisconsin and then in the season’s fourth game at Auburn. “I tried to play with it.”

Fournette indicated that he’s still not 100 percent and that he’s so “out of shape” that he tired easily Saturday. His three touchdowns were all on runs of more than 50 yards.

“Every two runs, I was done with. I’m telling Darrel (Williams), ‘Darrel, get in the game,’ ” Fournette said.

Fournette spoke to reporters Saturday night for the first time since Sept. 25 — the day Les Miles was fired — and he said he misses his old coach.

“Every day, we still talk about coach Miles,” Fournette said. “His personality, it’s different; especially we just miss hearing his voice, him being around. But I think (coach Ed Orgeron) is doing a great job dealing with this generation.”

Fournette returned to practice this week after missing three straight weeks — and two games — while rehabilitating the ankle. He watched from the sideline as LSU romped to 35-point wins over Missouri and Southern Miss under interim coach Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.

It wasn’t easy, and Fournette revealed that some wanted him to sit out for the rest of his junior season to prepare for the NFL draft.

“When I tell you it was one of the hardest three weeks of my life … man, it’s hard for me,” he said. “It’s very hard for me, especially when everybody wanted me to sit out. I could have, but when you really love football, it’s not about sitting out. I love competing, love going out there with (safety) Jamal Adams, guys each and every day. I feed off them.

“When I was hurt on the sideline watching practice, I’m like, ‘I’ve got to get better.’ I was working hard,” he continued. “From the time I got out of class, until practice ended, I was working out.”

Looking at Alabama

That’s not expected to change this week. LSU (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), which Sunday moved up six spots in The Associated Press poll to No. 19, is off this weekend before its Nov. 5 home game against top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0).

The Crimson Tide has won five straight in the series, and coach Nick Saban’s crew roasted the Tigers 30-16 last season in Tuscaloosa, holding Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries and handing LSU its first loss — a defeat that sent the Tigers spiraling to three consecutive losses.

Fournette has not forgotten, but he’s more focused on getting his ankle fully healed and his body in shape for the biggest test of the season. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 70.1 yards per game — 23 yards fewer than the next team.

“Y’all see what Alabama is doing to teams, man,” Fournette said.

“Well, after you watch the tape, you might not be as excited,” Orgeron laughed when asked about excitement surrounding the Alabama game. “No, I’m just joking. We’re going to be very excited to play a very good football team. We’re going to be up for the challenge. It’s going to be a physical football game. They have very good athletes. They are very well-coached, but so are we.”

Rare accomplishment

Orgeron on Saturday became the first LSU coach in modern-day program history to win his first three games by double digits, and his teams have outscored opponents 73-7 in the second half of those games.

His chances at landing the full-time job grow with each win, but he’ll be tested like never before in 13 days. LSU will practice just three days this week. The staff will “self-scout” Monday, Orgeron said, before diving into Alabama in practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

“(On) Thursday, we’re going to let the boys have a little fun and go home, and then we’ll come back and be ready to go,” Orgeron said.

He hopes time off heals some wounds. Left guard Will Clapp is still nursing an injured right shoulder. Moore suffered what LSU’s radio broadcast called a stinger. And, of course, there’s Fournette.

Despite that nagging injury, Fournette produced a night that ranks 10th on the SEC’s rushing list, surpassing Georgia legend Herschel Walker’s best game of 283 yards.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back in the Heisman race after all the games he’s sat out,” Godchaux said.

Fournette didn’t know about his rushing numbers until late in the game, when Michael Bonnette, the team spokesman, approached the running back.

Said Fournette: “He was like, ‘Man, you’re killing them out there.’ I said, ‘How many yards I have?’ He was like, ‘200-something.’ I was surprised.”