Approximately three hours after Leonard Fournette cemented himself into highlight reels everywhere with his 22-yard, activated-the-truck-stick touchdown run over Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews, Fournette’s LSU teammate and fellow true freshman Jamal Adams searched for the proper word to describe it.
There were none, only a facial expression sufficed. A grimace, the one that is in the shape of a smile but isn’t a smile, with the subject inhaling air through clenched teeth, making a sound that resembles a sizzle, signaling pain. Then Adams could only shake his head and think back to when he was the victim of a forceful Fournette run.
"That was my face,” Adams said of his reaction. “I was like, 'Whoa!' Me and Leonard when we first got here, first day of pads we went at it and he got me and then the next play I came and got him.”
Wait, he trucked you like that?
“Oh, yeah,” Adams confirmed. “Oh, yeah.”
Les Miles knows what he would do if he saw Fournette heading his direction.
"I would get out of the way if Leonard was running at me,” Miles said. “I would tackle him low and away. You know what I mean? It's kind of like a pitcher, I would pitch him low and away, I would tackle him low and away."
Watching the 19-year-old perform feats more likely to be seen on Sundays than Saturdays isn’t anything new for the Tigers. Senior offensive tackle La’el Collins remembers the first time he saw Fournette power over a defender.
“It just brought back memories of the first day he put on pads in camp,” Collins said. “He did that and I remember that. I'll never forget. I always wanted to see a little bit more of that from him this year. He's going to be a great player.”
Fournette showed glimpses of that potential greatness on Thursday in LSU’s 23-17 win over Texas A&M. He carried the ball 19 times for a season-high 146 yards, which also netted a season-high 7.7 yards per carry. The touchdown run over Matthews will be the most talked about run from that day, but it’s far from the only worthwhile thing Fournette did.
The performance was good enough to earn him SEC freshman of the week honors (the third time he has received that distinction) and he was consistent in helping the Tigers move the chains. He even showed some resiliency after a five-carry, 9-yard performance the previous week against Arkansas, evidence that growth is taking place.
“That's big right there,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said. “A freshman running back, he's been doing that for a while now. We have great confidence in him to run the ball the way he did [Thursday].”
It hasn’t been a perfect freshman season, though some might have expected it. As the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 ESPN 300, Fournette arrived at LSU with nearly impossible expectations to live up to. There were comparisons to Adrian Peterson. There were Miles’ own comparisons at SEC media days of Fournette to Michael Jordan. The praise heaped upon, again, a 19-year-old, was immeasurable.
He saw only occasional carries in the season-opening win over Wisconsin (eight), then created a stir when he did a Heisman pose after a touchdown run the following week against FCS foe Sam Houston State. As the season progressed, so has Fournette, surpassing 100 rushing yards four times in LSU’s last eight games. Those around him say he simply continues to work and do the right things.
"Leonard, he works hard in practice, man,” Adams said. “He's a level-headed kid and he's going to keep getting better and better each and every day.”
Added Jennings: "He's a powerful runner. He has great vision, great work ethic. Whatever's coming to him, he's been working for it throughout practice. I'm very happy for him and that run was big.”
It was a strong way to end his debut regular season and gives Fournette a foundation to build on moving forward in his LSU career. Miles, who calls Fournette “a mature freshman” is expecting him to become a special player. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds and the physical gifts the New Orleans native possesses, Fournette has what’s necessary to become a true college football star.
Asked about his freshman season so far, Fournette admits that while he feels he has done well, he can get better. His demeanor suggests the level-headedness Adams alluded to and the maturity Miles cites. Surrounded by reporters in the aftermath of his SportsCenter top-10 touchdown, he offered brief, simple explanations to what occurred Thanksgiving night.
How good did the touchdown feel?
“It felt great. It was normal,” Fournette said, eliciting laughs before chuckling himself.
Did you feel like you ran somebody over? Like somebody got in the way?
“Yeah, somebody did,” Fournette said. “Our coach kept telling us, 'If one person's free, make them miss.' So I tried to my best ability to make him miss.”
Did he ever.