Despite all the new people — coaches and players alike — dotting the LSU practice field Sunday, an old one stood out.
Kristian Fulton, the former Rummel standout, participated in the first practice of the spring. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback ran through drills in his purple No. 22 jersey as reporters snapped photos and streamed video of a kid who signed with LSU two years ago as the state’s top-ranked prospect.
His participation was not unexpected. In fact, he practiced last season despite not playing a down for reasons that had never been made public. Still, his appearance caused a wave of excitement from a fan base over a player whose status has been shrouded in mystery for several months.
The mystery is no more.
Fulton is halfway through serving a two-year suspension imposed last winter by the NCAA, said Don Jackson, an Alabama-based attorney representing the Fulton family who spoke to The Advocate on Sunday.
Fulton’s suspension kept him from playing the 2017 season. If not overturned, the suspension will prevent him from playing in, at least, the regular season of 2018, too. His eligibility would be reinstated for 2019. The 730-day suspension, Jackson said, is tied to a drug examination the NCAA conducted on Fulton late in fall 2016, Fulton’s true freshman season.
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Fulton is alleged to have attempted to use a fraudulent testing sample, somewhat of a double whammy, according to the NCAA. The governing body of college athletics suspended him one calendar year for submitting a fraudulent sample and docked him another calendar year for allegedly failing the test, Jackson said. The NCAA considers a no-show, or in this case a fraudulent sample, a failed test, Jackson said.
“The NCAA suspending this young man for two full competitive seasons is unethical, and there are due process issues relative to the collection of the test specimen,” Jackson said. “The decision in this case was ethically and legally incorrect. He’s suffered the most serious sanction I’ve ever seen for a student-athlete who failed a drug test.”
An LSU official reached Monday declined comment. An NCAA spokesman declined comment to questions Monday regarding any specific athlete.
According to NCAA policy, an athlete involved in a case of “clearly observed tampering” with a drug test is banned from competition for 730 days, or two full calendar years.
Meanwhile, Keith Fulton, Kristian’s father, continues to fight for his son’s eligibility. Keith Fulton told The Advocate on Sunday that Jackson is to speak on his behalf regarding this matter, approving the public release of information of his son’s case.
Jackson said in a couple weeks he plans to file what’s called a “reconsideration” with the NCAA in an attempt to overturn Year 2 of the penalty on grounds of “new evidence,” he said. The new evidence questions the handling of Fulton’s test sample.
“There were blatant violations of drug-testing protocol,” Jackson said. “We’re attempting to request the decision be re-examined, and (for) him to immediately be declared eligible for 2018.”
Lonzo Giles raised his son around the athletic facilities at Texas Southern.
A denial by the NCAA of the “reconsideration” would lead the family into another wave of appeals, Jackson said. A first round of appeals, coordinated by LSU, was denied last spring. The second wave of appeals could conceivably bleed into the 2018 season, further affecting the college career of one of the country’s best 2016 prospects.
Kristian Fulton emerged from Rummel ranked as high as the No. 3 cornerback in the 2016 recruiting class. Buried behind talented defensive backs as a true freshman, he played in just three games, finishing the season with two tackles.
Fulton spent last season practicing and working out with the team, but he could not travel with the team for road games or be on the sideline during home games.
His absence affected the Tigers. Coaches never found a strong enough nickel cornerback, a position in which Fulton specializes. It forced defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to play a four-defensive back set as opposed to his preferred five defensive backs. An extra defensive back — a strategy that adds a speedy coverage man to the defense — helps combat the spread offenses LSU faces regularly.
Fulton’s potential absence in 2018 is already being felt.
The team is preparing as if it again will not have the once-prized recruit. To boost the thin depth at cornerback, coaches moved receiver Mannie Netherly to the position, and they’ll play safety signee Kelvin Joseph there when he arrives this summer.
Also, the program is seriously pursuing a graduate-transfer cornerback from Stanford, Terrence Alexander, a New Orleans native and former John Curtis star. Earlier this month, LSU received a release from Stanford, a source confirmed, allowing the school to speak freely with Alexander. Alexander will be a fifth-year senior. He served as a rotational defensive back with the Cardinal, playing in nearly every game of his career before a season-ending injury in September last year.
For now, the Tigers have just four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster: redshirt sophomore and returning All-Southeastern Conference selection Greedy Williams, sophomores Jontre Kirklin and Kary Vincent and Netherly.
Orgeron has spent the past few months side-stepping questions about Fulton. Often last season, Orgeron only referred to Fulton as “questionable.” When pressed on signing day in February, the coach said Fulton’s situation was “still up in the air.” After spring practice Sunday, he told reporters that Fulton’s situation had not changed.
Jackson, a former pitcher at Alabama State, represents college and professional athletes in various types of grievances through his firm, The Sports Group in Montgomery, Alabama. He got involved in the Fulton case over the summer.
The NCAA randomly tests athletes at its member schools for performance-enhancing drugs. The NCAA tests for recreational drugs only at championships. About 12,000 random PED tests happen each year. Each NCAA school has discretion in testing its athletes for recreational drugs, and LSU is no stranger to this. The school, in fact, has tested Fulton more than two dozen times since the NCAA test in 2016. He has passed each test, Keith Fulton said.
A two-year suspension is “overly punitive,” Jackson said. College athletes are allowed to play four seasons over five years. Fulton would have two seasons of eligibility remaining after the suspension ends around December of 2018.
“This case is highly unusual,” Jackson said. “Bottom line is, the decision here was wrong.”
Ed Orgeron addressed reporters during a 15-minute news conference after LSU's first spring practice.