Humility of Heisman hopeful Fournette inspires No. 8 LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) The menacing presence that LSU running back Leonard Fournette projects when he topples would-be tacklers is missing as he steps casually into a crowd of reporters.

Relaxed, patient, self-assured and making eye contact, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette offers a friendly smile that seems to say, ''Ask me anything.''

He'll entertain a variety of topics - football, fatherhood or life in general. He'll list among his primary life goals the ability to pay for his now 8-month-old daughter, Lyric, to one day go to college. He'll mention the responsibility he feels to be a role model for younger cousins, or how he keeps up with an old youth football teammate whose father was gunned down during one of their practices in his native New Orleans years ago.

''I don't know how it feels to not have a father or someone to talk to when you're having problems,'' Fournette says. ''So I just try to keep his spirits up and make sure he's all right.''

The questions he tends to deflect are those which would have him to talk about how good of a football player he is.

He's asked that a lot, because he is a Heisman Trophy contender whose combination of speed, agility and brute strength has helped him fill stat sheets with gaudy numbers and supply highlight shows with awe-inspiring scoring runs.

''You can't talk this game,'' Fournette, in his typically succinct manner, says when asked about his aversion to self-promotion. ''You have to play it.''

For Fournette, there also is a measure of credibility at stake. He constantly reinforces to teammates the notion that they deserve credit for much of the praise he gets. So he isn't about to stand in front of a microphone talking about how great he is.

Fournette is more inclined to tout the attributes of fullback J.D. Moore, a former walk-on who is now starting and on scholarship. Moore helps clear lanes through which Fournette gains the speed he needs to lay waste to would-be tacklers.

''His story is spectacular,'' Fournette said about Moore. ''I came in with all the hype, but walk-ons get treated way different. He came from the bottom and I think he deserves everything that's coming to him.''

Ask Fournette to pick a favorite scoring run and he'll come back with: ''No favorite run. I have favorite guys and that's my (offensive) line.''

That's what he said after running for a career-high 228 yards and three TDs on 19 carries against Auburn last week. His scoring runs included a 40-yarder in which he ran over a defensive back and a 27-yarder in which he used a slight duck and quick hitch of his shoulders to send a defender who tried to tackle him high spinning airborne out of bounds.

Fournette, a sophomore, is the kind of star LSU coach Les Miles cherishes because he adds value to his talent by looking after his teammates and motivating them to work harder. He keeps a picture of college football's national championship trophy on his mobile phone as a visual reminder of eighth-ranked LSU's primary goal.

''The thing that makes him special is he's a very humble man,'' Miles said. ''He is a great teammate, leader. He wants to achieve as a group and as a team. His teammates enjoy him and root for him to have the kind of days that he's had.''

LSU safety Dwayne Thomas has known Fournette since both played at New Orleans high schools. He calls Fournette ''the voice of the team now.''

The Tigers have been moved by the way their star running back gives locker-room speeches about teammates who inspire him.

''That shows us that he cares a lot and his leadership is on another level,'' Thomas said. ''Any individual awards he gets, he wants that for the team. He wants to share that with us. He doesn't want to take it home.''

In four seasons at St. Augustine High School, Fournette piled up 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns rushing while emerging as the nation's top running back recruit.

He says his physical style stems from his preference to initiate contact rather than lose leverage by trying to wriggle away from defenders. Teammates say he appears to have an uncanny ability to use timing of his stride and the angle of his body to transfer his already formidable strength and energy into a compact point of contact. Sometimes, would-be tacklers bounce off of him with enough force to take out a fellow defensive teammate pursuing the play.

''Blocking for him and seeing it happen on the field, and looking back at it, you're like `How does he do it?''' LSU offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins says. ''It shocks me every time he runs. It's like his own show out there.''

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AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org

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