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Leonard Fournette learns valuable lessons from freshman year

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Fournette and Chubb the class of SEC backs (2:19)

Greg Ostendorf talked to players from LSU and Georgia to find out what makes their star running backs so special. (2:19)

HOOVER, Ala. -- There were two plays that defined Leonard Fournette's freshman season.

First came his "Heisman moment" in Week 2 against Sam Houston State. Fournette didn't even crack 100 yards in LSU's win, but when he crossed the goal line for the first time as a college player, he lifted his leg and stuck his arm out to emulate the famous stiff-arm pose.

After a chat with coach Les Miles, Fournette says he won't be doing that again anytime soon.

"I think that was unusual for him," Miles said Thursday at SEC media days. "I don't think that's normally who he is. He's looking forward to participating and competing and maybe winning one of those damn things."

The second moment came later in the season against Texas A&M. Early in the second quarter, with LSU trailing 7-0, Fournette trucked a defender en route to a 22-yard touchdown. The freshman sensation finished with 146 yards on 19 carries to lead the Tigers to victory, but that quickly became his signature highlight.

"My coach took me out two plays before that. He was like, 'Leonard, you're making too many cuts. You have to score. If you don't score, I'm going to take you out.'

"I'm like, 'please no, I can't let him take me out.' So it was one-on-one, me and him. Either I try to shake him and he tackles me or I try to run over him. That was my mindset -- to run over him -- and I scored."

LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander still remembers the play vividly. He and former teammate La'el Collins had a front-row seat for the SportsCenter Top 10 highlight.

"I played next to La'el, so we're blocking a guy," Alexander recalls. "We take the 3-technique, he's on the ground. We're going to the linebacker, and we both look at the same time and we see Leonard just run over the safety. Boom. Me and La'el were like 'this kid is good.'

"It was kind of cool because me and La'el made eye contact at the same time and were like 'wow.' But it was a cool moment. The whole country got to see how good he can be."

After he scored, Fournette didn't strike the Heisman pose. He pounded his chest twice, let his teammates swarm him and then simply went back to the sideline.

Those are the type of moments he hopes will define his upcoming sophomore season. He's trimmed down, going from 235 to 225 pounds, and his coach says he's smaller, faster and still just as physical as ever.

But the biggest difference has been his mentality. He knows the game better. He understands that he can't just dominate like he did in high school. There's more to it now.

"Coming from high school, you're so used to running over everybody," Fournette said. "In the SEC, you have great tacklers, great players you're going to go against every week. So I kind of had to change my point of view from that.

"You're so used to scoring four, five touchdowns a game. Now you're scoring one or two. But it helps you a lot at the end of the day."

Many people believe Fournette can and will be that dominant player once again at the college level. There were glimpses of it last year -- the touchdown against Texas A&M, the breakout performance against Florida where he says the game began to slow down -- but he knows he hasn't arrived just yet. He knows he's not the best back in the SEC.

He's just happy to be in the conversation.

"It's an honor to be mentioned with those guys like Nick Chubb," Fournette said. "Nick Chubb is a great running back. His film speaks for itself. That's why he's the No. 1 running back to me in the SEC right now, probably in the nation."

Maybe after this season, Fournette can overtake him.