Their first dispute was over a number.
Landon Collins and Leonard Fournette both wanted to wear the No. 5 jersey. Collins doesn’t even remember why. “Probably because of Reggie Bush,” he said.
What he does recall is that he wound up getting it. Collins was a little older and already had been in the program for a season. Plus, he said, he was the better running back.
They were about 7 years old at the time.
Fournette had to settle for a different jersey: No. 1.
On Sunday, they’ll find out who really is No. 1.
The two players have known each other since their childhood days as peewee football teammates at Hunter’s Field in New Orleans and were opponents in a pair of college contests between Alabama and LSU. They will square off for the first time in the NFL when Fournette’s Jaguars play Collins’ Giants.
Stopping Fournette will be one of the main keys for the Giants’ defense.
“We’ve got a great opponent this week, a team that can run the football, as we all know,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said of the Jaguars, whose 141.4 rushing yards per game led the league last season.
These days, although it may pain Collins to admit it, Fournette is the better running back. Or at least the one who actually plays the position. (Collins switched to defense in high school after moving to Geismar, Louisiana; if he had stayed in New Orleans, he said he probably would have remained in the offensive backfield as well.)
Fournette is coming off a dazzling rookie season in which he ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns and was a big part of Jacksonville’s transition into a playoff team. Collins said what makes the 6-foot, 228-pounder so difficult for defenders to handle is his balance.
“You see a big back like that, you don’t think he’s so elusive and can move the way he moves,” Collins said. “He’s fast, he’s elusive, he’s got great vision. Then he has a lot of weight behind him. So if he puts his shoulders down, he can run you over. He kind of has all the characteristics of a great running back. With those things, you’ve got to be perfect with him. When you hit him, you have to really wrap him to bring him down.”
The safety is not the only Giant who has firsthand knowledge. Others who faced Fournette in college include defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and linebacker Lorenzo Carter. A few others have opposed him in the NFL.
“I got to play him last year,” said linebacker Connor Barwin, who was with the Rams. “A big running back. They give him the ball a bunch throughout the game. A downhill runner, has the ability to break away and take runs the distance, so we’ll have to gang-tackle him. It’ll be a big challenge for us.”
No other Giant has a history with Fournette that goes back as far as Collins’, though. While they are not close friends, they are friendly and, as Collins said, keep an eye out for each other. Fournette even gave Collins a shout-out during his conference call with New York reporters on Wednesday, asking to say hello to “G Money.”
That, it turns out, was Collins’ nickname when he was younger. His father called him Money, and his childhood teammates — including Fournette — added the G.
As for tackling Fournette, Collins’ experiences are surprisingly limited. While his Alabama team won both meetings against Fournette and LSU, Collins said he had only one tackle on Fournette.
“I got one good hit on him,” he said. “I haven’t really tackled him since then. I only had one hit, that was it.”
On Sunday, he’s sure to get plenty more opportunities. And a relationship that began with a tangle over a jersey number suddenly will have a lot more at stake.