Lyric Fournette was in a hurry. Just like her father on the football field.
She was born five weeks premature, weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces — less than half the weight of an average newborn child and the size of a half-gallon of milk. She came so quickly that doctors had no time to administer pain relief medication to her mother, Jamie Jones.
When she did arrive, Lyric’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, depriving her of precious oxygen as her father, five days removed from a breakout performance in the Music City Bowl, nervously watched in the delivery room.
Lyric spent the next week in the hospital, fed via a tube that ran through her nose and down her throat.
This is how fatherhood began for Leonard Fournette.
“There’s a saying,” Fournette recalled. “God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.”
Lyric is now a healthy, 18-pound 17-month-old, more important to her father than any touchdown, more sacred than any victory. He holds her closer than that football you see him carry across the gridiron, wraps his bulging arms around her skinny frame, clutches her tiny hand with his massive mitts.
On a random Monday afternoon, Lyric is decked in her Sunday’s best — a white dress, two bows atop her head and gold bracelets on her wrists. She’s wobbling around an office in LSU’s administration building, her mother Jamie and father Leonard watching as she scours the room for nothing in particular.
She climbs a short staircase and climbs back down. She hides behind an open door and peeks out. She opens a cabinet and then slams it shut.
The door hits with a clatter, and she announces to the door her favorite word.
From her father’s lap, she picks up one of his two smartphones — yes, Leonard Fournette carries two phones. She puts it to her ear.
Lyric has her own dummy phone back home in New Orleans East, where she lives with the Jones family, Jamie and her parents.
As she roams around the office, Lyric unintentionally mimics her father. She’s got that same eye-squinting smile. Save for her runny nose and absence of a black beard, it’s the face so many LSU fans know as their Heisman Trophy hopeful running back. It’s just on a baby girl.
She even plays with a football, choosing it over another item in this particular office, a stuffed possum (or, in the eyes of LSU baseball fans, a rally possum). She’s not fond of the gray, hairy figure. It scares her.
Dolls — with hair — do the same. Lyric plays with hairless dolls, her mother announces. One thing is becoming clear: Lyric doesn’t like hair.
Her father smiles. He has shaved his head for years.
At one point, Lyric carries her dad’s phone to a corner of the room, then spikes it on the carpeted floor.
“All right,” she says after her father asks politely for his phone to be returned.
Lyric is too young to know that her father is a hotshot running back, one of college football’s premier players, a potential No. 1 NFL draft pick and hero to a fan base craving a championship.
But she does recognize him on television, pointing at the TV — not only when his helmet-less head is shown, but when he’s running over, around and by defenders.
“We were just watching the Auburn highlights earlier,” Leonard says, referring to what many believe is his best game, a 228-yard, three-touchdown outing last season. “She pointed to me and said, ‘Dad.’ ”
‘More famous than me’
The hospital receptionist stared at Lyric, in the arms of her mother, during a recent visit.
“I know her from somewhere,” the receptionist said, even before Jamie could get a word out.
“Oh,” the receptionist realized, “that’s Leonard Fournette’s daughter.”
Lyric Fournette is a 1½-year-old celebrity in New Orleans, the birthplace of her father, the city in which he evolved from parkball star to high school sensation to the nation’s top-ranked college prospect.
This is his city. It’s hers now, too — mostly because her father has turned his Twitter account into an endless stream of Lyric photos. He has more than 159,000 followers.
“She’s really more famous than me,” Leonard says.
There are plenty of stories to back it up.
Like the one in which Jamie’s sister brought Lyric to the mall. Minutes into the trip: “Oh ... it’s Lyric!” yelled someone.
It’s not uncommon for Leonard to receive a message on Twitter from a New Orleans waiter or waitress: “It was a pleasure serving Lyric tonight!”
Jamie last season brought Lyric to one of her father’s football games without a ticket. Jamie didn’t realize 1-year-olds need tickets, too.
The gate attendant admitted Lyric anyway. Oh, you’re Leonard Fournette’s child? Come on in.
Unfortunately for Lyric, her first — and, to this point, only LSU football game — never officially started or ended. Lightning canceled that meeting with McNeese State.
“Bad luck,” Jamie jests.
Lyric is as spoiled as a child of two college students can be.
She has three child-sized cars — an Audi, a BMW and her favorite, a pink Mini Cooper that she exits by swinging over the door.
There’s more on the way.
“I’m going to buy her a Rolls-Royce and G-Wagon,” Leonard says.
Jamie and Leonard’s parents care for Lyric and help financially when “we ask,” Leonard says.
The families are tight, said Lory Fournette, Leonard’s mother.
“It’s been a joy. We’re all close, Jamie’s parents and us,” she said. “Every Sunday we go over there and have Sunday dinner. We see Lyric at least five times a week.”
Jamie, 24, attends school at Nunez Community College in Chalmette, studying business. She drops off and picks up Lyric each day from daycare. Lyric is a popular girl at daycare. She hangs with the older crowd, says Jamie — the 2- and 3-year-olds.
Lyric’s day always begins with a FaceTime session with dad. Jamie’s phone buzzes around 6:30 a.m., just before Leonard begins morning workouts on LSU’s campus, part of Tommy Moffitt’s summer program.
They FaceTime in the evenings, too. They FaceTime on weekends during the season, when Leonard is holed up in some hotel in Tuscaloosa or Starkville.
How often do they FaceTime?
“If I FaceTime someone else,” Jamie says, “she says, ‘Dad!’ ”
Lyric skips around the office that Monday afternoon with something always in her mouth — either a Rice Krispies treat or a Mamba Fruit Chew. Mambas are her father’s favorite candy, so the square, chewy treat is often peering out of her mouth, too.
“She eats a lot,” Leonard says, “but she eats candy more than anything.”
Father and daughter share initials, too: LJF.
Leonard Joseph Fournette.
Lyric Jae Fournette.
That’s not by coincidence, Leonard adds. The first name also keeps with a family tradition. Leonard’s brother is Lanard. His father is Leonard Sr. Their mother is Lory. His two oldest sisters are Lanata and Latae.
“All Ls,” Lory laughs.
Lyric’s got another thing in common with her father: speed.
Before she began walking a few months ago, she out-crawled all of the other 1-year-olds at daycare.
“Her teacher,” Leonard says, “said she was the fastest crawler in the class.”
Kyle Gilbert considers himself a close friend to the Fournette family and a confidant to Leonard, having coached him at St. Augustine in eighth, ninth and 10th grades.
He found out about Lyric just days before the birth.
“He kept it from me,” Gilbert said. “I found out at the very last minute and I find out from Leonard Sr. I called (Leonard) on it, and he was like, ‘Coach, I really didn’t know what to say and how to say it to you. I felt like that’s not what y’all wanted.’
“I said, ‘Things happen,’ ” said Gilbert, now an assistant at John Curtis. “Watching him now with her and how he interacts with her, that lets me know he got everything we were trying to teach him in high school.”
Leonard admits it: He kept the news from most people, even his parents, at first. He was scared when he learned of Lyric’s conception.
After all, here he was LSU’s most prized signee in decades, about to start his freshman season in 2014.
“I didn’t know what I was going to say, how I was going to explain it to Mom and Dad,” Leonard says. “I was scared about that. I finally just told them. It was something I was holding in for a long time.”
Lory’s response: “We were shocked in the beginning, but Lyric has been a joy to our family.”
Leonard finished off that rookie season in a flurry, running for 289 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M and Music City Bowl loss against Notre Dame. He averaged 13 yards per carry in the bowl game and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.
That was on Dec. 30, 2014.
Lyric Jae Fournette was born Jan. 4, 2015.
Leonard played that game under something more serious than the anticipation of childbirth. He played that game knowing the mother of his child had taken a spill at home. Jamie fell walking up a set of stairs and onto her belly. While in Nashville preparing for the bowl game, Leonard received a call from Jamie.
“There was a lot going on,” Leonard says.
The fall, at least partially, induced labor. She began having contractions. Doctors administered medication to stop the contractions.
A week later, her water broke while she was watching television. It was the night of Jan. 3, more than a month before Lyric’s Feb. 9 due date. During the start of the labor process, Leonard lay slumped over a chair in a delivery room at East Jefferson Hospital.
“He was sleeping,” Jamie now laughs.
Lyric was born around 2 a.m. Yes, Leonard was awake for it.
“I was there when she came out,” he said. “It was something different. I was like, ‘I have a child now.’
“It was something new for me,” Leonard continues. “Her coming into this world, when I saw her, it changed my outlook on life.”
Jamie sums it up well: “It’s not just about me anymore.”
After doctors severed the umbilical cord, photos of the new family were snapped — Leonard, Lyric and Jamie. This birth included a second round of photos — not of the family, a photo of the doctors, the doctors and Leonard.
“They were excited,” Leonard says laughing. “I think I took pictures with multiple of them.”
‘The best thing to happen to me’
Does Leonard Fournette change diapers?
“Yeah,” he says at first.
He glances toward Jamie.
“Sometimes,” he says.
“Not all of the time,” he finally says with a smile.
Lyric is raised by “a village,” Gilbert said. Jamie, for example, has seven siblings. Everyone pitches in — both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“Someone’s always there to take care of her,” Gilbert said. “When Leonard can’t, they can. It goes back to that old saying in the community: It takes a village. Right now, that’s basically what they’re doing. It’s going to be a group effort until he’s able to move on to his professional life.”
Leonard Fournette’s college career is on its last leg. Barring something unprecedented and unexpected, he’ll turn pro after this season — a lock of a first round NFL draft pick and a guy who ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last fall projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, if he had been eligible.
Two years ago, coach Les Miles admitted that, if eligible out of high school, Fournette would have been a middle-rounds pick. He hasn’t disappointed.
Fournette broke the school’s single-season rushing records last year with 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. He led the nation in yards per game at 162.8 — nearly 15 yards more than the next player, Heisman Trophy winner and ex-Alabama star Derrick Henry.
Things weren’t always rosy.
Alabama held him to 31 yards rushing on 19 carries — more than 170 yards below his per-game average at the time. Fournette took that performance, and the loss, hard. He’s still taking it hard seven months later.
“That was the toughest part,” he said. “Everybody was down on me: ‘Thirty-one yards and he was not what we expected.’
“It helped me deal with people,” he continues. “It made my bond with my players and coaches stronger.”
That game pushes him.
Someone else pushes him harder, though.
Lyric Jae Fournette.
“She’s the best thing to happen to me. She makes me a better person,” Leonard says. “My attitude at school, workouts. When things get harder, she’s what I think about. She depends on me.”
Said Cyril Crutchfield, another one of Fournette’s coaches at St. Augustine: “All she does is fuel the engine, put more fuel in it.”
Everyone notices it. Lyric changed Leonard for the better. In fact, Leonard wants another child. A boy.
“I think Leonard has matured a lot — not that he wasn’t mature, but he takes everything more serious, as far as work ethic, school, football,” Lory said, “because he knows he has a daughter depending on him.”
Jamie notices, too.
Jamie and Leonard met through her older brother. They’re working on their relationship, like any young parents. It’s not easy.
They’ll spend Sunday, Father’s Day, together with Lyric and the rest of the family — the village, as Gilbert calls them.
Will Leonard get Father’s Day gifts?
“I’m not asking for nothing,” he says with a smile, “but I’m expecting gifts.”