Rabalais: Leonard Fournette stays grounded _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, left, hands an autographed football to young fan Brookleigh Buford, 7, of Lake Charles during LSU's 2015 Fan Day on campus Sunday.

And on the seventh day, LSU’s Garbo talked.

The last anyone heard from Leonard Fournette was at Southeastern Conference Media Day about a month ago.

Since then, LSU coach Les Miles had his star running back off limits to the media.

Maybe it was the red pants and matching red bow tie Fournette wore that day in “red state” Alabama (the color red enrages Miles, like a bull).

Maybe it was a little lack of conditioning. Miles dropped the hint last week that he likes practicing in the heat because it slims Fournette down.

But despite any insinuations to the contrary, Fournette looked fit Sunday at LSU’s media day. Fit in terms of his weight — he said he’s at 226 pounds, which is where he wants to play this fall at his M1 Abrams tank-like best — and his team-first attitude.

Gone is the man-child Leonard Fournette from a year ago, the one who talked about wanting to win the Heisman Trophy — and striking its famous trophy pose after a touchdown — and being an All-American. In his place Sunday was a full-grown man who listed his personal goals thusly:

“My personal goals overall are to win the national championship,” he said. “I’m worried more about the team now and getting them prepared for the season.”

No Heisman talk. No taking aim at Charles Alexander’s single-season rushing record of 1,686 yards in 1977, after setting an LSU freshman record with 1,034 yards in 2014.

“If it comes, it comes,” Fournette said.

He talked instead of his Christian faith and of staying grounded. If the Lord loves a humble hero, that’s the Fournette the media got to see Sunday.

“I would have to attribute that to his parents,” said running backs coach Frank Wilson, who has known Fournette since he was in seventh grade. “They are very grounded people. They’ve raised him and insulated him, but at the same time prepared him for how to handle success. The side that’s not always popular and talked about, but his spirituality has helped him stay humble.

“He’s still the same Button I knew back then.”

Excuse me? Button?

“My grandmother,” Fournette said, explaining the nickname with braces illuminating his smile. “When I was little she said I had a button nose.”

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Buga Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

He’s still the same talented, Mack-trucking Fournette, able to punch a hole in the turf with opposing defenders who get in his way. But maturity has caught up with the full-grown man’s physique.

Maybe that will make Fournette more formidable than ever in 2015.

This begs the question: how much Fournette is just enough to be a good thing?

In the run-happy decade that has been the Miles era at LSU, the Tigers have never had a back average more than 20 carries per game. The closest was the nuclear-powered Stevan Ridley, who in 2010 averaged 19.2 carries per game (249 rushes in 13 games). Last year, Fournette averaged 14.4 carries, with only three games above 20.

He’s got the chops to carry the ball more. But Fournette also returns kickoffs — 24 for a 26.0-yard average, including that 100-yard breathtaker in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame.

So should Fournette carry the ball more or spread his talent around to the kickoff return game as well? LSU has ample backups in both areas, with Darrel Williams, Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice at tailback and freshman flash Donte Jackson on special teams.

Miles sounded like he would keep Fournette in a similar role as in 2014. Wilson was emphatic that Fournette could put the Tigers on his back, but why risk breaking a Stradivarius?

“The thing that we’ve always tried to do is have our backs be fresh, guys that could give their greatest effort on every play that they’re in,” Miles said.

“Leonard could be that 20-carry back, but I think there’s a point in time too where you don’t want to wear him out, and you do not want an injury. You don’t want to keep pressing the line of scrimmage when he’s tired. So we’re very fortunate to have guys that can step in and play and play very big roles behind him.”

Fournette’s response was measured and team-centric.

“It’s a team sport,” he said. “It’s not Leonard Fournette’s team. It’s LSU. Those young guys, they can play.”

Of course, nobody does it better than Button.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.

TOP TIGER CARRIERS

Most carries per game each year during Les Miles era

2010 -- Stevan Ridley -- 19.2 (249 carries, 13 games, 1,147 yards, 15 TDs)

2013 -- Jeremy Hill -- 16.9 (203 carries, 12 games, 1,401 yards, 16 TDs)

2008 -- Charles Scott -- 16.7 (217 carries, 13 games, 1,174 yards, 18 TDs)

2007 -- Jacob Hester -- 16.1 (225 carries, 14 games, 1103 yards, 12 TDs)

2014 -- Leonard Fournette -- 14.4 (187 carries, 13 games, 1,034 yards, 10 TDs)

2005 -- Joseph Addai -- 14.4 (187 carries, 13 games, 911 yards, 9 TDs)

2011 -- Spencer Ware -- 13.6 (177 carries, 13 games, 707 yards, 8 TDs)

2012 -- Jeremy Hill -- 12.9 (142 carries, 11 games, 755 yds, 12 TDs)

2009 -- Charles Scott -- 12.9 (116 carries, 9 games, 542 yds, 4 TDs)

2006 -- Jacob Hester -- 7.2 (94 carries, 13 games, 440 yds, 6 TDs)