It’s the job of people like LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton to prevent the Hail Mary pass.
But there’s nothing that says he can’t benefit from one.
That’s what it felt like Thursday afternoon, after the NCAA shockingly reversed itself and brought to an abrupt end Fulton’s two-year suspension for tampering with a drug test in February 2017.
Potential LSU starting cornerback Kristian Fulton was reinstated by the NCAA, coach Ed Orgeron said Thursday, concluding a nearly 19-month com…
The news came like a thunderclap right after the Tigers wrapped up their Thursday practice session, just two weeks after the NCAA denied the elaborately argued appeal put forward by LSU and Fulton’s personal attorney in this matter, Don Jackson.
It seemed like that was that. Athletic director Joe Alleva even said at the time he couldn’t conceive of what further measures the school could take on Fulton’s behalf. But the school and the former Lehigh University quarterback launched a Hail Mary pass anyway in the form of a four-page letter to the NCAA, requesting a reclassification of Fulton’s penalty that would result in a one-year suspension instead of two.
Fulton has already served that sentence. And much more. Amazingly, the normally stone-hearted NCAA agreed.
The news brought a happy grin to coach Ed Orgeron’s face as he met with the media. As evidenced by a video fellow Tigers cornerback Greedy Williams tweeted, it was received in a euphoric LSU locker room like it was a big win on the field.
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Ultimately, it may turn out to be just that.
If Fulton, who in 2016 was rated as the nation’s No. 3 cornerback prospect coming out of Rummel High School, doesn’t start in LSU’s Sept. 2 opener against Miami, he will be a major part of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s mix. He has been allowed to participate fully in LSU’s practices. If all goes well for Fulton health-wise — and if he passes another drug test — you figure he will be starting opposite Williams soon.
Fulton could prove to be the last piece in the puzzle of what already figured to be a salty LSU defense led by preseason All-Americans Williams and Devin White at linebacker. Not that LSU does not have other cornerbacks to fill that role, but teams are likely going to throw away from Williams’ side of the field and test the other. Fulton is the Tigers’ best, most talented option.
There is a human tendency to want to connect too many dots, to want to read too much meaning into disparate events. But a day after Ohio State gave Urban Meyer a shamefully limp slap on the wrist of a three-game suspension for his woeful handling of domestic violence allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith, suddenly Fulton’s two-year suspension appeared even more egregious.
The one happenstance in all likelihood had no impact on the other from the NCAA’s point of view, but the view from Baton Rouge is that some sort of equilibrium has been injected into the vast college football universe. Some sort of unseen playing field has somehow been leveled.
No matter how well Fulton ends up playing this season, however big a contribution he ends up making, it cannot be understated what a shot of positive energy his reinstatement means for his team. LSU’s program has absorbed one blow of bad news after another throughout August, with three players suspended for arrests, two quarterbacks transferring and the earlier denial of Fulton’s appeal.
Given the timing of the news after all hope seemed lost, Fulton’s return could probably even be a bigger boost for the Tigers psychologically than if had come at the time of his appeal.
“Shout out to the NCAA,” Williams joyfully shouts into the camera in his phone, “for seeing the bigger picture.”
LSU players went nuts as they learned of the surprise announcement that the NCAA had reinstated defensive back Kristian Fulton.
The big picture does not change the fact Fulton made an enormous mistake when he tried to use someone else’s urine for that 2017 drug test. It was a test he thought was for marijuana, which his father said he smoked two days prior. Turns out it was a test for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), which Fulton did not have in his system.
In a column after Fulton’s appeal was denied, I wrote that it was not surprising that he was turned down. I also wrote the NCAA’s justice in this case was unjustly harsh given the circumstances. Had Fulton simply failed the drug test, he would have already served a one-year suspension and never would have had to go through this.
But now it’s over. Justice, it would seem, has been done. The Hail Mary pass has been completed, courtesy of the one organization that rarely it seems gives a pass to anyone.
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