Excitement overtook then-freshman running back Leonard Fournette when he scored his first touchdown for LSU against Sam Houston State in the season’s second game last year.
Fournette, who joined the Tigers as thetop recruit in the nation from New Orleans, dashed into the end zone on a 4-yard, first-quarter run then struck the Heisman Trophy pose.
Back on the sideline, LSU coach Les Miles approached his precocious back, “We have to talk,” he said.
Fournette, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound back, who is equal parts battering ram and breakaway threat, enthralled a throng of reporters Thursday at SEC Media Days with a beaming smile, complete with braces, decked on in a striking red bowtie and matching pants.
“I wish I had purple spray paint,” Miles told Fournette en route to the Wynfrey Hotel. “I’d paint your pants right now.”
Fournette was unfazed and seems comfortable in the spotlight, which is a good thing as he and fellow sophomore standout running back Nick Chubb of Georgia are poised to be the face of the SEC in 2015.
In a conference lacking star power at quarterback, it’s Fournette and Chubb who shine brightest.
Fournette finished with 187 carries for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and averaged 25.0 yards per kickoff, including a 100-yard touchdown.
“He makes us look good, man,” senior offensive tackle Vadal Alexander said. “He gets a little bit of daylight and he’s gone. He is gone, man. I’ll tell you one thing, if you block a man halfway good, he’ll make it right. If you block him all the way good, that’s probably a touchdown. There’s definitely a lot of perks to having Leonard Fournette.”
Chubb, who stepped in when Todd Gurley was suspended and later injured, totaled 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns on 219 carries as a true freshman.
“There were times Nick would find a hole and I would try to pursue it, to catch up with him and get a block,” Georgia tackle John Theus said. “Many times I wouldn’t be able to do it, because he’s just so fast. In the Auburn game last year he broke a tackle, lost a shoe, and kept running down the field. Some of the things he’s done are very special, and he’s a great kid. He’s very humble.”
Chubb and Fournette are among the top eight players receiving odds to win the Heisman, according to Bovada.
“The Heisman talk, I’m not really into it and I’m not focusing on it,” said Fournette, who apologized in a team meeting for his exuberant pose last season. “The main goal at the end of the day is a championship.”
Chubb, who did not attend SEC Media Days, isn’t a fan of hype either.
“Nick is a … pretty quiet, unassuming guy,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who hopes to lessen Chubb’s workload in 2015. “He’s a very hard worker. He’s a great student. He’s a great teammate. He’s becoming a great leader for us, and he doesn’t really like the hype.”
So, who’s the best?
“I met (Chubb) in high school, and he’s the best running back we have in the SEC right now,” Fournette said.
Of course, Fournette’s teammates aren’t so sure.
“I’ll take No. 7,” Alexnader said.
LSU junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith added, “What amazes me is how big he is, and he can really run. … He really has a skill-set like I’ve never seen before. That’s what makes him special.”