Fournette Needs To Focus And Ignore National Talking Heads

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Knee Injury Can Possibly End Career

By John Ventola

Only three games into his sophomore year, LSU running back Leonard Fournette finds himself hemmed in more by questions about his collegiate future than any defense he has faced this season.

Fournette has rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 start. The powerful back has gained the yardage on 73 carries, running over and away

LSU

Fournette Takes Early Lead In Heisman Race

from overmatched tacklers. It is major college football, but Fournette seems to have a knack of making his performances look like “man versus boy” on-field confrontations. He has been dominant and able to make carrying a football appear easy since he started playing on fields as a young teenager in New Orleans.

A legend in the New Orleans bantam leagues (after rushing for eight touchdowns in one game, opposing team parents once signed a petition to try and have him banned from competition), and easily the best high school running back to come out of Louisiana in the past fifteen years, Fournette is special. A “freak” in sports lingo, he combines power, agility, explosiveness, and speed to make fans rub their eyes in disbelief, and send opponents back to their benches shaking their heads.

Former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia legend Hershel Walker has watched Fournette play during his freshman season, and the first three games of 2015, and says, “he is better than I was.”

Georgia had Walker, Auburn had Bo Jackson. Fournette evokes memories of those two great Southeastern Conference running backs. While he has more games and snaps to take before he can cement his legacy to be mentioned in conversations about Walker and Jackson, he is well on his way.

Walker, the 1982 Heisman winner, burst onto the scene in 1980 when he led Coach Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs with 1,615 yards rushing on 274 carries. He scored fifteen

SEC

Hershel Walker, Bo Jackson, And Fournette, League’s Best Ever?

touchdowns his freshman year, and led the Bulldogs to the National Championship. Two seasons later Dooley rode his workhorse to the No. 1 spot in national polls, but Georgia lost to eventual national champion Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.  Walker was Georgia football in his time in Athens. Sure he had excellent, supportive teammates around him, but Dooley had Walker carry the ball 385 times in 1981 and 335 times during his Heisman-winning junior campaign.

As good as he was in his 12-year NFL career—-and he was very good–some pundits claim Walker did not live up to professional expectations. Dooley had Walker tote the ball 994 times for 49 touchdown during his illustrious three-year Georgia career.

Walker signed with the now defunct USFL after the Bulldogs won their national title, carrying the ball 1,143 times in his three years with the New Jersey Generals. Bottom-line, Walker had been hit numerous times as he carried the football a combined 2,137 times in college and USFL games.

Walker showed what kind of athlete he actually was when he went on to rush another 1,952 times in the NFL.  A special athlete, “a freak”. He still had enough explosiveness in those powerful legs to even try out and make one of the USA’s two-man bobsled teams. Walker competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics.

The SEC was blessed to have the careers of Walker and Jackson overlap—at least for

hat

Dooley And Dye Differed In Handling Star Backs

the ’82 season, Walker’s junior season and Jackson’s freshman year. Auburn coach Pat Dye used Bo wisely, but effectively. Jackson, the ’85 Heisman Trophy winner, carried the football 652 in his four-year college career. The versatile athlete, who also played baseball at Auburn, averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Playing both professional baseball (Kansas City Royals) and football (Oakland Raiders), Jackson epitomized “the freak” athlete, using his powerful body to star in both sports.

A terrible hip injury that occurred when Jackson tried to pull out of a tackle attempt while playing with the Raiders ended his football career. He managed a baseball comeback with the Royals, but the injury eventually unveiled an outfielder who could not cover ground, and a hitter that could no longer use his former blazing speed to run out base hits, or go for the extra base. The career of one of the most gifted athletes in the past thirty years had come to an end. “Bo Knows”, a publicity campaign used in his many product endorsements, was effectively over.

If Fournette continues on his current path, and maintains his productivity, he will be regarded as the “Third Musketeer”, joining Walker and Jackson as the most outstanding running backs  in the modern era of SEC  football.

Walker left Georgia after three years because he had won his Heisman and the Bulldogs had captured the national championship. Of course, the USFL was waving around a lot of money that would not be there if Walker returned to Athens and was

football

Walker And Jackson Avoided Major College Injuries, Lattimore And Gurley Did Not

badly injured in his senior season. Jackson completed his four-year stint on The Plains, but Dye had not exposed him to as much punishment as Dooley did to Walker.

While Walker and Jackson were able to avoid any significant leg injuries during their college careers, recent star SEC runners suffered devastating injuries. South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, compact at 5-11, 220 pounds, broke 42 tackles in his 37 carries against Georgia in his first collegiate game against Georgia. Gamecocks Coach Steve Spurrier, perhaps thrilled that he had discovered another aspect of the game (running), used Lattimore much like Dooley used Walker.

Lattimore tore a knee ligament against Mississippi State during his sophomore year. He and unofficial advisors gave a lot of thought to Lattimore sitting out his junior year as a redshirt, rehabbing the knee, and applying for the 2013 draft (after redshirting the 2012 season).

Instead, Lattimore returned for his junior year to complete the “three-year rule” (NCAA rule that will not allow football players to declare for the NFL draft until they have satisfied three years of eligibility—can be two years and one year redshirt like Lattimore was contemplating).

In an October, 2012, game against Tennessee, Lattimore dislocated his right knee, tore every ligament in the knee, and suffered nerve damage. Despite the prognosis that Lattimore’s career was probably over (famed surgeon James Andrews did the work),

JV Sport Shots

Injuries Can Be Devastating

the San Francisco 49ers drafted Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft. Lattimore tried by showing up for camp and preparing diligently. He later described the experience as “hell”, admitting he was ready, but the knee was not able to stand up to the rigors of being an NFL running back. He retired without ever playing in an NFL game.

Todd Gurley, probably Georgia’s best running back since Walker, tore an ACL last season to end his three-year Bulldogs career. Of course, surgeons are able to get such tears repaired and rehabilitated, so Gurley was drafted tenth overall by the St. Louis Rams. Gurley, who did not play in Rams preseason games or the first two regular season games, made his NFL debut last week by carrying the ball six times for only nine yards.

The jury hit the gavel on Lattimore’s career-ending injury, but they will need to look at more evidence about Gurley’s less-serious knee repair before giving a verdict on his NFL career.

National speculation on whether or not Fournette should finish this season, and sit out his junior year before declaring himself eligible for the 2017 draft, is mixed. I am sure Fournette is aware of the Lattimore and Gurley stories—and their outcomes.

Only two running backs have won the Heisman in the last fifteen years. Reggie Bush in 2004 and Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009. Because of illegal shenanigans at USC

football

Quarterbacks Have Monopolized Heisman Trophy In Recent Years

during his career there, Bush has been removed from official Heisman lists.

This blogger hopes Fournette does not get distracted or gets caught listening to questionable advice.  He rushed only 187 times in 2014 for 1,034 yards. Coach Les Miles is using him wisely thus far, and not overworking him. Fournette is dominant, in part, because of his aggressiveness. He needs to maintain his aggressive running style in order to avoid injury, and continue on his journey to capture the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

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