Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette is a monstrous individual.

The Jaguars’ lead running back has demonstrated time and time again that his power comes from within. Whether it is plowing through a field laced with football-hungry, 350-pound linebackers, hurdling the odd safety, or providing motivational locker room speeches, the man-child from New Orleans is a class act, on and off the gridiron.

Fournette’s name absolutely covers the record books of his alma mater Louisiana State University (LSU), as he currently holds or shares 15 school records, including total rushing yards in a season (1,953), rushing touchdowns in a season (22), and career 200+ yard rushing games (5). If that’s not enough, the rugged power back from the south had already become a household name in northeastern Florida, even before his first National Football League game with the Jaguars, at the tender age of 22.

Interestingly enough, Leonard Fournette was actually banned from football at age 12, as the New Orleans football registrars felt that the burly preteen was far older than his birth certificate indicated. Luckily the ban didn’t last long and Fournette was declared eligible to return to middle school football.

He may be one of the most physically intimidating 22-year-old rookie specimens to ever walk into the locker room of an NFL team, but it doesn’t take much digging to get past his sculpted six-foot, 235-pound frame, and access the many dispositions of Leonard Fournette’s loving heart.

Immediately following the Jacksonville Jaguars’ week-one victory over the highly favoured Houston Texans, CBS reporter Steve Tasker caught up with Fournette on the sidelines. Fournette, who had put up a touchdown and 100 yards rushing on 26 carries on top of 24 receiving yards in his NFL debut, humbly stood next to Tasker with his hands folded and treated the former NFL wide receiver-turned broadcaster with the utmost of respect.

Fournette noticeably began each response to Tasker with a “Yes sir”, a “No sir”, or an “I am unsure sir”—A trained mannerism quite uncommon in the typical mindset of a 22-year-old who had just fulfilled his childhood dream.

Growing up in the Seventh Ward district of New Orleans, Louisiana, Fournette was blessed with two loving Christian parents, Lori and Leonard Sr., who pushed their football-loving son to excel in all areas of his life—not just football.

At the age of 10, Fournette and his family fearfully scurried to set up camp on the overpass of Interstate I-10, finding shelter after evacuating their house during the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina.

After briefly vacating to Texas in the aftermath of Katrina, the Fournettes moved back to New Orleans, but this time to Crescent City—the urban municipality in the United States that holds the highest murder per capita rate.

“I would have to attribute much of Leonard’s persona to his parents,” said LSU running back coach Frank Wilson, in a 2015 interview with The Advocate. “They are very grounded people. They’ve raised him and insulated him, but at the same time prepared him for how to handle success. That is the side that’s not always popular and talked about, but his spirituality has helped him stay humble.”

It was through the teachings of his parents and his extreme life experiences that prompted Leonard Fournette to recently donate $50,000 to J.J. Watt’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund in early September of 2017. Watt—a defensive end for Fournette’s very own week-one opponent, the Houston Texans—rallied for the world’s support after taking in the destruction of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and incredibly raised over $30 million.

Fournette’s decision to give $50,000 as an NFL rookie who had never before met Watt, and was matching up head-to-head with the feared defensive end on the day of his professional football debut, was an easy one. In his post-game chat with Tasker, Fournette spoke about the game, his performance and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“My coach believed in me, my O-line believed in me, and without God I wouldn’t be here,” Fournette said. “I thank God for giving me this opportunity to come out here with my team. And my heart still goes out to these Houston people for the hurricane. Without God, it would sure be a different situation.”

“We knew it was going to be a crazy atmosphere out here because of the relief that happened,” he said. “I gave from my heart because I wish that from Katrina, somebody would have done that for us. I gave back to the people—the less fortunate, because they probably lost everything. Like I said, my heart still goes out to Houston, and I hope that they can keep moving forward, but also to those people back home in Florida dealing with our own storm.”

Generosity is nothing new for the 22-year-old, who as a high school student gave his MVP award to another player who he credited as “more deserving of the award”. In early February of 2017, Fournette also teamed up with a mass water bottle distributor and donated a truckload of disposable water bottles to tornado victims in eastern New Orleans.

Although it’s his ability to carry a pigskin through a line of 11 burly individuals that’s provided him with a career in football, it’s his community outreach and faith-based decisions and attitudes that will carry Leonard Fournette the furthest in life.

Coach Wilson of LSU, who knew Fournette since the seventh grade, was clearly onto something back in 2015. However, now the term “successful” seems to be a major understatement.

Carter Brooks is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On top of reading and writing, coaching hockey is his favourite pastime. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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