Leonard Fournette believes everything happens for a reason, as part of God’s greater plan for a football player blessed with so much naturally ability.
Just take a glance at his Twitter timeline. Or ask LSU fullback J.D. Moore, a teammate the junior tailback has referred to as his “flashlight” when running through a hole.
“He’s not going to question the plan God has for him and his athletic career,” Moore said. “It’s not gone the way he would have planned or hoped, but I believe and he believes everything happens for a reason. So he’s been taking it in stride.”
For the first time in an almost a month, the flashlight will be leading Fournette through the dark at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
The All-American participated in Monday’s walk-through after a three-week absence due to a re-aggravated ankle injury he originally hurt in preseason camp. Interim coach Ed Orgeron said he expects Fournette to practice the entire week before returning to action against No. 23 Ole Miss.
The Tigers’ single-season rushing leader sustained a high ankle sprain during a preseason practice and has reinjured it twice during the season – in the season-opening loss to Wisconsin and a Sept. 24 road loss to Auburn.
Fournette has missed three games this season, including the last two.
At this point, Orgeron said he doesn’t know how much Fournette will be able to play Saturday, but the running back came to his office last Friday, wanting to discuss how he would be used against Ole Miss.
“He was the first one in there,” Orgeron said. “He sat down in my office and said, ‘Coach, how you’re going to use me next week? Let’s talk about some stuff.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go.’ You can feel the fire in him.”
Orgeron acknowledged the injury took a mental and physical toll on Fournette. At times, he felt useless to his team, Orgeron said, but Fournette helped spark his team at halftime against Southern Miss last Saturday.
The No. 25 Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) and the Golden Eagles were tied at 10 at the break before scoring 35 unanswered points in the second half.
“He was just telling us just do what we do,” said cornerback Donte Jackson. “Don’t let the 10-10 at half against Southern Miss really affect our mood. Just come out there and do what we do. Just have a whole new attitude about us.”
Fournette’s return against the Rebels (3-3, 1-2) creates an interesting dynamic for the LSU offense. Sophomore Derrius Guice has filled Fournette’s role seamlessly, running for at least 150 yards in all three games Fournette has missed.
“Don’t get me wrong, Guice is very proven,” said wide receiver D.J. Chark. “He’s earning his stripes every week and you got to respect him. But when you have Leonard back there, it’s that a feeling of intimidation for a lot of people. I’m not saying everyone is scared of him, but if you watch football, you know he’s a great runner. So having him back there is really uncomfortable for them.”
On Saturday, Guice, who leads the team in rushing and scoring, became the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards. He needed only 113 attempts to do so.
In terms of games, Fournette is the fastest LSU player to reach 1,000 yards, accomplishing the feat in 13 contests.
Now, the two may be in the backfield at the same time, Orgeron said, as well sticking with a rotation of Fournette, Guice and Darrel Williams.
“I think it’ll be a three-headed dragon for us,” said quarterback Danny Etling.
Orgeron said he believes Fournette will be honest with him about how he’s feeling before the game, and only plays that Fournette can successfully run will be called.
Jackson said Fournette tried to mask how much not playing bothered him, wanting the team to “focus on the task at hand.” Though the rushing success wasn’t slowed in his absence, Jackson can’t deny what Fournette brings.
“Who wouldn’t want the best running back in the nation back in the lineup?” Jackson said.