BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU running back Leonard Fournette will sit out the 19th-ranked Tigers’ matchup with No. 15 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl, a decision that ends his highlight-filled collegiate career.
Fournette portrayed the decision to rest his injured ankle as a mutual one made in consultation with coach Ed Orgeron. The junior will be eligible to enter this spring’s NFL draft, during which he is expected to be among the top players selected.
“I’m not a quitter at all. I tried to play through the injury as best as I could,” Fournette said. “It’s a hurtful feeling knowing that we had the season that we had and I didn’t get the opportunity to play to my full potential.”
Struggling with an injury nagging him since August, Fournette rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games this season.
The Tigers, who entered the season ranked fifth and with national title aspirations, split their first four games, after which coach Les Miles was fired. Orgeron, who initially took over on an interim basis, gained the permanent head coaching title after going 5-2, with both loses coming in close contests to No. 1 Alabama and No. 20 Florida — the teams that played in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Fournette’s 119.7 yards rushing per game ranks first in LSU history, as do his five 200-yard rushing games and his single-season rushing total of 1,953 yards in 2015. In a victory over Mississippi this season, Fournette rushed for a 284 yards on just 16 carries, highlighted by touchdown runs of 78, 76 and 59 yards. His yardage total from that game also stood as a school record until Derrius Guice rushed for 285 yards on 37 carries in the Tigers’ regular-season finale at Texas A&M.
“I had my ups and downs as far as my last two years, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Fournette said. “It made me who I am today.”
Orgeron said LSU was fortunate that Fournette, arguably the most coveted recruit in the nation coming out of high school in New Orleans, chose to play in and for his home state when he could have gone anywhere.
“We are grateful for all the years that Leonard gave us, all the great memories, all the great games,” Orgeron said. “Leonard was a great teammate ... He was a joy to coach.
“We know this is a tough decision for Leonard, but he has a bright future ahead,” Orgeron added. “He will always be one of the greatest players in LSU football history.”
When healthy, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette attacks defenses with a rare combination of power, speed and agility, staggering defenders at times with explosive cutbacks and at others by lowering his broad shoulders. From the moment he arrived on campus, it was a virtual certainty that he would leave for the NFL draft after his junior season. He inferred as much when he’d periodically mention his commitment to support his young daughter.
The only question left before Friday was whether he’d suit up for LSU’s bowl game.
Fournette thanked LSU and his coaches “for not letting me play,” but added that he planned to continue to support his teammates through the Citrus Bowl and travel with the team for the game.
“This is best for my future,” Fournette said.