Fifteen years or so from now, he’d like to be in Canton, Ohio, this weekend — and many are already saying he will be.
But Saturday night, Leonard Fournette achieved a special status: the first high-schooler to win the Corbett Award as the outstanding amateur male athlete in Louisiana.
All of the previous Corbett winners since the award was instituted in 1967 had been college athletes or Olympians.
“At first I wasn’t sure about it,” said Fournette, who reports at LSU on Sunday after a stellar career at St. Augustine, where he rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns and was considered the nation’s No. 1 prep prospect. “But when my mother told me that I was the first high-schooler to receive the award, I was like ‘Oh, man.’”
Louisiana-Lafayette pitcher Christina Hamilton was the Corbett winner for women.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl-sponsored ceremony at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome included the induction of five people into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame: basketball standouts Avery Johnson, Kerry Kittles and Harold Cervini; football’s Lionel Washington; and the late Anna Koll, an all-around athlete from the 1920s and ’30s.
Even bigger things are being predicted for Fournette. It’s an expectation level Fournette has been dealing with since he was a freshman at St. Aug and received an offer from LSU.
And now, before he plays a down of college football, Fournette has been declared the most NFL-ready freshman since Adrian Peterson.
“It’s nice to be compared to all the greats, but I don’t worry about it,” Fournette said. “All I’m focusing on is being the best player I can be at LSU and helping the team.”
Hamilton, a junior from Rosepine, compiled a 29-4 record this spring as the Ragin’ Cajuns reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2008.
She is the third UL-Lafayette softball player to receive the Corbett Award in the past six years, following Ashley Brignac in 2008 and Christi Orgeron in 2012.
“It’s an amazing honor.” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know I was even being considered.
“It’s inspiring to think about all of the others who have won this honor before and who are out there now in all of the other sports. But they would all tell you they couldn’t do anything without their teammates.”
Of the Hall of Famers, Cervini, from St. Aloysius and Tulane; and Washington, a Tulane graduate who had a 15-year NFL career at cornerback, were both present.
Cervini, who described himself as a “little Italian boy who spoke broken English” went from being a basketball novice at St. Roch Playground to playing for Johnny Altobello at St. Aloysius to becoming a two-time All-Southeastern Conference player at Tulane.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Cervini, who was a longtime supervisor of playgrounds in Algiers. “I have so much to be thankful for.”
Washington, now the defensive coordinator at Tulane after a 15-year career in the NFL, said he overcome all of the obstacles his life with a winning yet humble attitude.
“Everybody wants to the next great star,” he said. “But you never achieve anything with sacrifice and the attitude that nobody is ever going to outwork you.”
Koll was described as “New Orleans’ greatest all-around athlete,” in 1930 after she had state tennis championships in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Massachusetts. She also excelled in AAU track and cabbage ball.
Koll was represented by her great-niece, Monique Koll, who gained her own measure of renown by her recovery from a broken neck suffered when she was hit by a truck while riding a bicycle.
“I was in the hospital for two years and in home-bound rehab for another,” she said. “But I can honestly say I would not have made it without some the inspiration I received from my Aunt Anna. “She probably would have been embarrassed by this tonight, but she certainly deserved it.”
The Eddie Robinson Award went to Karr baseball coach Donnie Russell, whose team went 22-2 and was the first from an Orleans Parish public school to host and win a playoff game since the mid-1980s.
Receiving special recognition Saturday were UNO basketball coach Mark Slessinger for promoting safe environments for foster children, Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan for keeping the game in the top tier of bowl events, Nicholls State Athletic Director Rob Bernardi for his leadership at the school, and the UL-Lafayette athletic department for the school winning five Sun Belt Conference titles in the past year.