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What can Leonard Fournette learn from Jadeveon Clowney?

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Fournette's ankle injury adds to disappointing season (1:26)

Brett McMurphy explains the long term ramifications of Leonard Fourentte's ankle injury. (1:26)

Three years ago, Jadeveon Clowney heard the same unsolicited advice that Leonard Fournette no doubt receives at every turn.

"Sit out your junior year."

"No more free licks."

"Don't risk injury when you can become a first-round NFL draft pick."

Today, Clowney says he did the right thing in playing through criticism and injury during the 2013 season at South Carolina. He says he owed it to his teammates to help them chase championships.

"I'd still have played," Clowney said Wednesday. "You can get injured anywhere. It wasn't about me, it was about my team at the time. I loved the group of guys I was playing with. I like those boys like my brothers. Some of them I still talk to to this day. And I was not going to just quit on them.

"So I would have played and tried to win a national championship. That what it's about," he continued. "I always thought about it. I always wanted a ring and to go to the national championship. I didn't get it, but I knew I had the chance when I was playing for it instead of sitting at home not doing anything."

Those words might as well have come directly from Fournette's mouth, although he has not been able to back up that sentiment lately. A preseason left ankle injury has hobbled LSU's All-American running back throughout the season, and Saturday's game against Florida will likely be the third he'll miss by the season's midway point.

Fournette says he will keep playing once he is able to, despite what a growing number of skeptics insinuates each week while he watches from the sideline.

"I'm fine," Fournette said the day after a Sept. 24 loss to Auburn, where the ankle visibly bothered him even as he rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries. "Overall I'm going to be here playing with my brothers each game. That's not going to change. I'm just ready to play again."

Fournette has not played since making those comments on the day LSU athletic director Joe Alleva fired coach Les Miles and replaced him with Ed Orgeron. He sat out Saturday's 42-7 win over Missouri and Orgeron said Wednesday that he does not expect Fournette to be available against the Gators, either.

But should he return at all? Fournette already plays a contact-heavy position, and his physical running style only adds to the punishment that his body absorbs.

That's part of the reason Fournette's family took out two $10 million insurance policies -- a detail first reported in May by CBSSports.com -- as he approached what will almost certainly be his final college season.

But self-preservation isn't really Fournette's thing. Teammates expect to eventually see the same Leonard who happily bowled over tacklers in meaningless spring practices return to the lineup once his ankle heals.

"Most guys on this team don't have that sort of thing. We don't have insurance policies on our draft status," LSU fullback J.D. Moore said. "But I think his goal right now, his mindset, is he's got to be as healthy as he can be. I don't think it does him or the team any good if he's playing one game and sitting out the next. That's just not the way he wants to operate. So I think if it takes a little longer on the front end to get him healthy to have more success on the back end, where really that's the meat of our schedule at the end of the year, I think that's his mindset -- trying to be as healthy as he can be."

That's advice that Clowney would likely offer, as well. Playing is one thing. Potentially hurting yourself or your team by playing before your body is ready is another.

"Say he would have went out there with not that good of an ankle, he might have hurt something else or he might have done something else," said LSU's Ethan Pocic, the top senior center prospect in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest 2017 draft rankings. "Say me for instance, if I can't go, I'm not going to go and maybe put [running back Derrius] Guice [in jeopardy] or the quarterback, because if I can't do my job, I don't want to let my teammates down."

That's the fine line that a superstar with high-first-round potential must walk.

Clowney dealt with heavy criticism when a series of minor injuries knocked him out of two games and affected his production during his junior season. Like Fournette in 2016, Clowney -- also a former ESPN No. 1 overall high school prospect and first-team All-American as a sophomore -- entered that fall as a Heisman Trophy contender whose name sat high atop NFL draft boards for the upcoming year.

His junior-year downturn generated plenty of debate leading up to the 2014 draft, but Clowney still went No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. And even if he doesn't go with the very first pick should he enter next year's draft, Fournette's ceiling seems just as high. He currently occupies the No. 1 spot on ESPN analyst Todd McShay's Top 32 list and trails only Texas A&M's Myles Garrett on Kiper's "Big Board."

As McShay wrote, "Resting until he's right will be the best thing for his long-term future. After logging 513 total touches in his previous two seasons, Fournette has little left to prove to NFL scouts."

In the meantime, Fournette has maintained his role as a team leader from the sideline, even as teammates recognize his frustration.

"We all know he's disappointed he isn't playing," Guice said, "but whenever I come on the sideline, we're hugging, we're doing our little handshake or he's just giving me some advice, telling me how I did on the previous play or drive. To me, he's supportive on the sideline. So all the 'He looks mad,' I don't know where that comes from."

As Moore indicated, the meat of LSU's schedule still lies ahead. Although the Tigers lost twice in a disappointing September that led to Miles' dismissal, they are still in the thick of the SEC West race since games against division rivals Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M await them in the second half of the season. Fournette would be LSU's ace in the hole for that stretch run, assuming that he is healthy and engaged when that key portion of the schedule arrives.

It remains to be seen how quickly Fournette's ankle will recover, but Orgeron, for one, does not expect to have any problems keeping his star running back engaged despite the personal interests that would convince many others to sit out.

"Sometimes it can be [difficult]. But you know, Leonard is a different cat," Orgeron said. "Leonard has a high character. He's a team guy. He wants the team to win, have success. I think he was happy to see the offense have success. I think he was happy to see Guice and Williams have such a successful night [against Missouri], and I'm sure he wants to get back in there as soon as he possibly can."

ESPN Texans reporter Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.