Cyril Crutchfield keeps a small piece of notebook paper tucked in his office desk.
On it are scribbled three goals. Not his goals.
The goals belong to that of his former running back at St. Augustine, Leonard Fournette.
You might know him better as the once top-ranked running back in the nation or the true freshman currently leading LSU in rushing.
“I look at it often,” Crutchfield said.
He held the slip of paper in his hands while speaking to a reporter earlier this week. He did not reveal the goals, of course. Their specifics will remain private.
“I try to see where he’s at as far as reaching the goals,” Crutchfield said. “Two are attainable this week.
“He specifically has a goal for the Alabama game,” the coach continued. “Alabama was the only school mentioned in the list of goals.”
Reasons aren’t as important as this reality: Fournette set three personal goals for one of the most anticipated true freshman seasons in LSU history and one of them included Alabama.
“That is,” Crutchfield said, “the rivalry.”
The rivalry unfolds Saturday night in primetime on CBS: No. 4 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern) at No. 14 LSU (7-2, 3-2).
It might be better known as college football’s recent regular season crown jewel – a mouth-drooling, heart-pounding, slobber-knocking duel pitting two powerhouse programs from the nation’s most revered conference.
This scintillating drama has a new lead character: Fournette.
“In my book, he’s even better than I thought,” LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said in a Foxsports.com story last month.
And this week is his game – a battle between the New Orleans native’s two finalists during a whirlwind of a recruiting process. People around Fournette call the process “overwhelming” and “madness.”
Fournette snapped a streak of sorts by picking LSU.
Since 2011, Alabama and coach Nick Saban have plucked seven Louisiana-grown prospects who were ranked in the top-15 at their position – most notably the nation’s top-ranked safety in 2012, Landon Collins, and the nation’s No. 1 tackle last year, Cameron Robinson.
How close was Fournette from choosing Alabama, instead of LSU, during a nationally televised commitment ceremony in January?
According to his father, Leonard II, not close at all.
“Alabama never had a chance,” the elder Leonard said.
It didn’t necessarily seem like that from the outside.
“It was probably closer than the majority of the fan base thinks it was,” said Shea Dixon, a local recruiting expert covering LSU for 24/7 Sports.
Les Miles wasn’t too worried.
“We felt very confident that he’d pick us over Alabama. That’s really as much as I’d (like to say),” he said last week.
But Saban has stolen players from Miles’ state so much, he had to be worried, right? Miles shrugs it off.
“Sometimes it’s a battle,” he said. “Sometimes the prospect knows what he wants. There’s a loyalty with the state, loyalty with the family. There’s a want to be in Louisiana. So whoever you recruit against has to withstand that.”
Saban failed this go-around, but the former LSU coach tried.
Fournette chose Alabama for his final official visit in mid-December last year, about three weeks before his commitment. Saban and Bama assistant Burton Burns, the top recruiter on Fournette, visited him just days after his official visit to LSU and just before the visit to Tuscaloosa.
They were pushing hard.
Fournette’s mother, Lory, even cooked for the two. Before the visit, Lory called Burton Burns’ wife to learn Saban’s favorite meal. She cooked it.
“Crawfish etouffee and carrot cake,” said Lory Fournette. “He wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
The food was so good that Saban later mailed her a letter thanking Lory for the food and the hospitality. During the Fournettes visit to Tuscaloosa days later, Saban met with the family in his office to deliver a message.
“He said something in reference to, ‘Don’t be pressured to go (to LSU) because that’s your home,’” Lory said. “He was like, ‘We need you over here.’”
Crutchfield was caught in the middle of all of this. The coach was heavily criticized by the LSU fan base for steering Fournette toward Alabama.
His stepson, Bradley Sylve, is a defensive back for Alabama, and Burns, a New Orleans native, is a former St. Augustine coach who’s friends with Crutchfield.
“It was an awkward situation,” Crutchfield said. “You always worry about perception and what people think.”
Crutchfield’s friends would send him screen shots of fan message board posts in the months leading up to Fournette’s commitment: “Saban got Crutchfield the job at St. Aug so he could send Leonard to Alabama!” one said.
“Outlandish and ridiculous,” Crutchfield said now laughing about it.
In reality, Saban was more than just a football coach to Fournette. There was a connection between the two, something that built through years during the recruiting process.
The relationship was strong enough that Saban and company continued to recruit Fournette hard after his commitment, staying on him until the bitter end.
“There’s always going to be a connection,” Lory said. “He liked Nick Saban. He really did.”
One person close to Fournette said the recruit “lit up” when Saban called, a reaction brought on only by the Alabama coach.
Now, the man who he liked so much will be trying to stop him Saturday inside an arena that Saban once roamed.
A defensive-minded coach, Saban enjoys stripping an opponent of its strength. For LSU, that’s running the ball with Fournette. The Tide is No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense.
Fournette had two of the most impressive outings in his last three games, running for 140 yards at Florida and 113 in the upset of then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
He leads LSU in most rushing categories: yards (657), touchdowns (seven), attempts (131) and average yards per game (73).
He’s currently eighth on the school’s all-time freshman rushing list, just 304 yards from tying Justin Vincent’s rookie record of 1,001 yards.
Things haven’t been easy, though. His mother admits that. Lory knows her son’s daily schedule. She texts him throughout the day and calls him between classes, practices, weight lifting sessions, study halls and whatever else is on his full plate – that too, eating.
“He says it’s different. He says it’s not like high school,” Lory said. “He was rushing to get out of high school, but high school was good compared to college.
“Every day you have to work even harder,” Lory said. “There’s always someone out there working harder. It’s like a business.”
Leonard Fournette, as a true freshman, is unavailable for interviews, excluding a handful of post-game opportunities.
What’s he think about Saturday’s game?
“I asked him yesterday,” Lory said earlier this week, “and he said, ‘It’s another game.’ He doesn’t feel pressure. He didn’t go there, but that’s not even on his mind. He’s looking at it as another game.”
It’s not, of course. It’s Alabama, the only team that made his list of three goals.
Crutchfield has that slip of paper in his hands. He finally, somewhat, gives in: The goal involving Alabama is how many yards Leonard will run for against the Tide.
How many – 100, 150, 200?
“It’s lofty. It’s lofty,” Crutchfield said. “Put it like this, ‘If he reaches that goal, then LSU is going to win the game.’”