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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Fournette compares to Louisiana's best

By Gary Laney

Many Louisiana football historians would take Watch List running back Leonard Fournette in a Pepsi Challenge over the great running backs in the state's illustrious past.
Wayne Reese knows what a good running back looks like.

He was the coach at New Orleans' Carver High School when a shifty little back named Marshall Faulk passed through his program en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So when Reese, now the head coach at New Orleans' McDonogh 35 High, sees Leonard Fournette play, he recognizes the talent.

"He's a special player," said Reese of Fournette, the star of local rival St. Augustine High and one of the top players in the 2014 class. "And he's a special kid too."

Fournette is the signature player in what should be a banner 2014 for Louisiana prospects. Fournette is a candidate to be the nation's top running back in the 2014 class, one of four Louisiana players to be in contention for top honors at their respective positions, along with offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe), defensive end Gerald Willis (New Orleans Karr) and safety Laurence Jones (Monroe Neville).

What makes Fournette different from the other top prospects is how his name sparks conversations about the best ever from the state.

"Is he as good as Marshall Faulk?. How about Cecil Collins?" Old timers will even bring up LSU's lone Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, who shared Fournette's build (both men stand at 6-foot-1, with Fournette weighing 230 pounds while Cannon played at 215 in an era when that was considered huge for a back) and speed.

And here's the thing: The answers, even from those who are not prone to hyperbole, are almost universally favorable to the St. Augustine senior.

Marshall Faulk
NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk was a stud in his Louisiana high school days, but Leonard Fournette might be better.
"He's not as elusive as Marshall," Reese said, "but he's a pro-style back playing at the high school level. He's 225-230, the weight the NFL likes their backs to be. And here's the thing, I'm a track coach and I hold the stop watch. He's a 48-49 (seconds) in the 400 meters. Once you get that train moving, you can't stop it."

Jay Roth, who coached Archbishop Rummel in the New Orleans suburbs to the Class 5A state title, played against former New Orleans Saint Gill Fennerty in the 1970s when Fennerty played for New Orleans Jesuit. Roth has since coached against many a future NFL back, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who also prepped at St. Augustine.

"We've had some great ones," he said, "But as far as the shear size and physical strength, I don't think we've had one like Fournette."

Reese also mentions Fournette "football IQ," and instinct for the game.

"If there's a hole, he'll see it," Reese said, "and if he sees it, he'll get to it."

Fournette has broken the 1,000-yard mark every year since his freshman season at St. Augustine, coming to the school already highly touted from his junior high exploits. Teams have keyed on him since day one, but it hasn't mattered.

"He's as good as I've seen since St. Augustine had Leroy Hoard (who played for St. Augustine in the 1980s before going to Michigan and the NFL)," said Ron Brocato, a veteran New Orleans sportswriter and author who has covered the city's prep scene for 46 years, currently for the Catholic New Orleans Clarion-Herald newspaper. "But I'd say Leonard is a little further ahead at the same age."

Reese said what separates Fournette from Hoard and others is the combination of size and speed.

"Hoard was big and strong, but he couldn't run like Leonard," Reese said. "You've got to stop that train before it gets going."

Reese knows how to slow down a dominant back. While at Carver, he dealt with defenses keying on Faulk. Now, he has devised a simple, but effective plan to slow down Fournette that has allowed his Roneagles to beat St. Augustine two of three years.

"When (Fournette) is in the zero technique, meaning lined up straight behind the center, I'll line up in a 3-4 (defense) and have both my inside linebackers, who are pretty good, just shoot the (A) gaps," Reese said. "I tell them, even if he doesn't get the ball, you're chasing him.

"He still gets his 200 yards on us."

What impresses Roth is Fournette came to St. Augustine already a well-known player. But, Roth said, he hasn't let the attention he gets from defenses and the media affect him.

"He's a high a character young man as you'll see," Roth said. "Just a clean-cut, hard-working young man."

That has allowed him to stay focused despite the attention.

"He isn't like (former St. Augustine star) Tyrann Mathieu," Roth said. "Nobody knew who Tyrann was until his senior year. With Leonard, everybody knows who he is."

Serious Louisiana football men who talk about Fournette in comparison to the best backs ever to come out of the state having talking about him for four years now. And they aren't stopping any time soon.