Rabalais: Magee has come too far to give up

With Baton Rouge about to become the worldwide headquarters of the Leonard Fournette movement (can’t wait for Brent Musberger to boom, “You are looking LIIIIVE at Buga Nation!”), LSU’s incumbent running backs are expected to know their place, which is, to back up Lord National Player of the Year.

But senior tailback Terrence Magee hasn’t come this far and do this much just to genuflect and step into the shadows. He welcomes Fournette, the St. Augustine superstar, along with fellow running back signee Darrel Williams of John Ehret, and plans to take them under his wing.

But just move to the side and let Fournette take over? Not a chance. Asked if he wants that first snap Aug. 30 in Houston against the Wisconsin Badgers, Magee’s response is quick, firm and direct:

“Yes, sir. No doubt.”0

Not that Magee doesn’t think Fournette is a meteoric talent. He’s seen him play. He’s also watched how the player some have called the best running back to come out of high school since Adrian Peterson handles himself off the field.

Both facets of LSU’s most heralded running back prospect since at least Kevin Faulk in 1995 are impressive, and Magee doesn’t hesitate to give Fournette his due.

“I think he’s a great back,” Magee said. “I’ve watched him run and I’ve seen some of his interviews. He’s very mature and I think he’s going to be able to handle his transition to college football very nicely.

“I definitely see why they recruited him to come here.”

But Magee was recruited to LSU for a reason, too. It’s because he has talent. He’s lasted this long as a Tiger, into his senior campaign, because he’s been a good soldier in the LSU program.

Coming to Baton Rouge out of Franklinton High School, Magee was a quarterback who immediately got shifted to tailback. Mostly blunted in his attempts to get on the field — Magee had 27 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown his freshman year — he moved to wide receiver as a sophomore in 2012.

But the ride down that street was a dead end for Magee, who caught one pass and had one carry for a combined total of 7 yards.

So it was back to tailback in 2013, where the talented but troubled Jeremy Hill awaited on the depth chart. Hill played and played great, churning to a 1,401-yard season before turning pro.

But Magee was hardly a wallflower. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns on an efficient 86 attempts, his 7.3 yards per carry outpacing even the dreadnought Hill (6.9 yards per carry). He bolted for 149 yards on 13 carries against Texas A&M, had 108 yards on nine carries against Kent State and on just seven carries against Furman and nearly cracked 100 yards in the opener against TCU with 95 yards and two TDs on 13 carries while Hill served a suspension.

With Hill gone, and with Fournette and Williams not arriving until August, it’s been left to Magee and Hilliard to split virtually all of the carries at tailback (though coach Les Miles said former linebacker turned fullback Melvin Jones got a few turns at tailback this week).

“It’s a lot on us having only two backs but it’s going to benefit us in the long run,” Magee said.

There is little doubt that if Fournette can come to LSU this fall, grasp the offense and live up to only a fraction of his hype he will grab plenty of gridiron glory.

But no Miles team yet has lived by one tailback alone. You’re not about to see Fournette or the second coming of Billy Cannon go all Tre Mason in Cam Cameron’s offense and go off for 30-plus carries a game.

You want Terrence Magee in that backfield. You need Terrence Magee in that backfield. And as has been the case throughout his LSU career, he’s more than willing to fill the role called upon.

“Every since I got here all I wanted was an opportunity to contribute,” Magee said. “No matter if it was playing special teams or receiver or running back, I was willing to do whatever they asked me to do to get on the field.

“A lot of times I felt some of that work was in vain, but as you get older and you mature you realize everything you went through is preparing you for what you’re going to be in the future. To be honest, if I hadn’t gone through some of those things my work ethic and motivation might not be what it is now.”

But he did, and it is, and the fantastic Mr. Fournette aside, there will be plenty of times times this fall LSU is mighty glad to hand the ball to Magee.

Mighty glad.