ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- LSU's drive for five commitments at the Under Armour All-America Game ended shortly after it kicked off. Tigers fans vented their frustrations when receiver Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) committed to Texas A&M and his high school teammate, defensive tackle Gerald Willis III, picked Florida. It mushroomed when Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) committed to SEC West rival Alabama later in the game.
But LSU still managed to walk away with the biggest prize of the 2014 recruiting calendar when No.1-ranked Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) committed to the Tigers. In the end, Fournette wasn't some consolation prize. His decision will mean more to LSU fans than any of the other players who got away. Fournette -- who had 44 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving in the game -- is the best running back to come out of the high school ranks since Adrian Peterson was tearing through defenses as a Texas high school legend. Just like Peterson, Fournette has lofty expectations for himself when he arrives in Baton Rouge, La.
"I plan on winning a Heisman and a national championship with my fellow teammates," Fournette said while surrounded by a throng of microphones and television cameras. "I can handle the pressure. I can handle it."
Before you complain about Fournette saying that, don't forget that Peterson stormed into Norman, Okla., as a true freshman and was a Heisman finalist and led Oklahoma to the 2005 BCS National Championship Game. He said similar things when he was coming out of high school and was able to handle the pressure of those expectations.
Fournette could do the same.
No No. 1 recruit has handled the type of pressure Fournette has had to handle. Each recruiting cycle, the attention and criticism placed on prospects multiplies. It's absolutely crushing when you're the best player in the country. Fournette said at one point he couldn't step outside of his house in New Orleans without somebody coming up on the street and asking him if he was going to LSU.
He knew if he picked the Tigers, he was going to be a hero throughout Louisiana. He also knew if he picked Alabama, he was going to be vilified like no recruit ever before.
It's tough to do what's best for you when dealing with that burden, but somehow Fournette handled the entire process and his eventual decision with class that few former No. 1 players have displayed. Fournette kept information about his recruitment to a small circle of family, coaches and friends and was able to handle the impossible pressure like a professional.
"I feel for Leonard," said quarterback Brandon Harris, a fellow LSU commit who played with Fournette on Team Highlight. "Nobody has had to deal with the type of pressure he has. He lived in a fishbowl that nobody ever before has had to face. He's a great player, but he's an even better person. I don't know how he didn't crack with what he faced."
LSU fans certainly had some moments of panic after finishing second in Noil's, Willis' and Brown's announcements. Landing highly regarded safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) certainly was a welcome addition, but there was a sinking feeling among Tigers fans that Fournette was suddenly going to slip away to the Crimson Tide.
But Fournette turned the tide when he said he was committing to "the University of LSU." Some might call Thursday a "what-if?" day and think his decision was only a Band-Aid after missing on talents like Noil, Willis and Brown, but Harris doesn't think so.
"This is not a disappointing day for LSU," Harris said. "Getting the No. 1 player in the country is hardly a consolation prize. We are excited to get him. He's going to be a guy that'll start from day one at LSU.
"I think with Leonard coming to our team, it brings a guy that's physically ready to play right away. He knows different things. He can do things that other running backs can't do. I can't wait to get him wearing the purple and gold."