Fournette to highlight LSU's 2014 recruiting haul

On National Signing Day a year ago, Leonard Fournette revealed he was going to commit at the 2014 Under Armour All-Star Game.

The St. Augustine running back was wearing a pair of LSU shorts at the time.

If Tiger Nation had witnessed that omen, there’s no telling how much angst could have been saved.

That’s because as planned on Jan. 2, Fournette did indeed announce his intentions to “take my talents to LSU,” not only meaning that the Tigers had landed the consensus No. 1 prospect in the nation, but that they’d beaten out Alabama for the distinction as lagniappe.

Fournette will make it official Wednesday when he signs his National Letter of Intent at the school, ending a process that began four years ago when LSU made him an official offer even though he was only a freshman.

But for all of the national attention focused on Fournette’s selection process, apparently there was little internal drama, much less the public turmoil that sometimes surrounds many high-profile recruits, such as Dutchtown’s Landon Collins two years ago.

“If you wrote a guidebook for how big-time recruits should handle things, this would be the way,” ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said. “Leonard showed great maturity in his decision-making and in not letting people who shouldn’t get involved.

“Almost every time if you see a player of his ability fail, it’s because of character issues. But Leonard doesn’t appear to have those.”

Fournette also quickly narrowed down his options.

Although last summer he said he would take official visits to Florida, Miami, Michigan and Southern California in addition to LSU and Alabama, those never developed.

Southern California might have had a chance had Lane Kiffin not been fired at midseason and interim coach Ed Orgeron been retained, but that didn’t happen.

LSU’s Les Miles and Alabama’s Nick Saban were the only head coaches to make official visits.

And once Fournette made his commitment, there was no second-guessing or talking to other schools.

A rumor last week that he was reconsidering and that several coaches were at St. Augustine making late pitches proved to be just that: a rumor.

Coaches were there — but only to talk to other St. Aug players.

“It was close,” St. Aug coach Cyril Crutchfield said. “Leonard had a strong relationship with both schools, and he couldn’t go wrong either way.

“It finally swayed to LSU. And once he had made his decision, he was done.”

Fournette also was done talking about the process. He declined several interview requests for this story.

“It was like after he committed, the schools quit calling, but everybody from the outside, TV, the recruiting services and so forth, wanted sit-downs with him,” Crutchfield said. “He’d been patient throughout the whole process, but he finally felt like it was time to move on.”

And so on Wednesday, when the national recruiting eye will be on the top uncommitted prospects, including John Curtis’ Malachi Dupree and Kenny Young, whose decisions will air live on ESPNU, the ceremony at St. Aug will be a relatively low-wattage affair.

“The burden on us wasn’t where Leonard was going to go,” Lori Fournette, Leonard’s mother said. “It was that people wouldn’t quit asking.

“Everywhere we went, it was just crazy.”

Luckily for the Fournettes, their home now in Slidell provided a sanctuary of sorts.

Although the family had lived in the 7th Ward of New Orleans Leonard was in the seventh grade, they now reside in a suburban enclave where Leonard’s presence drew little attention.

Even the home visits by Miles and Saban went unnoticed.

“Outside of a couple of our neighbors, nobody really knows about us living here,” Lori Fournette said. “One of Leonard’s old elementary school teachers came because she just wanted to wish him joy and happiness.

“But we didn’t have fans hanging around or anything like that. Now if we had been in New Orleans, it would have been different.”

Indeed, during a pre-Christmas shopping trip to Lakeside Mall, he was repeatedly stopped and asked for autographs and pictures.

“One mother asked if her son could shake the hand of the No. 1 recruit in the nation,” Lori Fournette said. “It meant a lot to him and to Leonard too.”

The attention seldom stops.

Fournette is a regular at St. Aug basketball games, and they frequently turn into Twitter and Instagram festivals with everyone flashing the BUGA (Being United Generates Attitude) Nation sign that his mother has already trademarked.

Fournette already was a celebrity at school, especially to the middle-schoolers.

“Leonard came to my class and talked about how important it is to do well in school and treating people the way you want to be treated,” sixth-grader Blake Batiste said. “I want to follow in his footsteps.”

Crutchfield relates the story of how Fournette came into the weight room when the middle-schoolers were working out.

Spotting one youngster having some difficulty, Fournette demonstrated the proper technique to him and then watched him to make sure he had it right before leaving.

“Leonard just loves the middle-schoolers, and they love him,” St. Aug Principal John Charles said. “He shows them now to do things the right way.

“He’s been in the spotlight for so long and obviously is a great player. But he never got a big head about it. He was team player all the way.”

That’s why, Crutchfield said, recruiting never interfered with Fournette’s play, which included him lining up at wide receiver, wildcat quarterback and linebacker in addition to running back.

In the Purple Knight’s 29-28 victory against John Curtis, Fournette not only scored the winning two-point conversion, he then kicked off and made the tackle on the return.

“He was just willing to do everything it took to make us successful,” Crutchfield said. “Leonard didn’t have to prove anything, but he worked harder than he ever had before.

“I don’t have any doubt that sometime in the next year or so you’re going to see him New York at the Heisman ceremony and then after that at NFL Draft.”

Fournette’s season ended in disappointment: a 31-28 loss to Rummel in the Division I semifinals.

That gave him an earlier-than-desired start on the final stages of his college decision.

There was never, according to Lori Fournette, a final sit-down-and-talk-it-out family meeting about it. It was more just a gradual process that kept coming back to LSU.

“You want to help your child do what’s best for him,” she said. “So I guess you could say LSU was our choice.

“But most of all, it was Leonard’s choice.”