Leonard Fournette: Blessed In A Challenging Season
It has often been said that a team is only as good as its best player. How good does a cellar-dwelling team become when it acquires the very best player to ever play the game? Well, for fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that exact scenario played out for the 2020-21 National Football League season.
Not only did Tom Brady join head coach Bruce Arians and the Bucs for the season, but he also brought along a recruitment of players. Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement, Antonio Brown opted to change his lifestyle and move south to Tampa Bay, while recent Jacksonville Jaguars’ cut Leonard Fournette was also added to the fold for 2020-21.
The main storyline from Super Bowl LV saw Brady earn his seventh championship ring while being named the game’s most valuable player in a 31-9 drubbing of the highly-offensive Kansas City Chiefs. However, seeing the redemption song of Bucs’ new lead tailback Leonard Fournette play out over the postseason certainly caught the eye of many.
Seeing the redemption song of Bucs’ new lead tailback Leonard Fournette play out over the postseason certainly caught the eye of many.
He Showed Up Big
Fournette, 26, was drafted fourth overall by the Jaguars in 2017 and suited up in 36 games for Jacksonville from 2017-19, earning 17 touchdowns on 660 rushing attempts for 2,631 yards. He also played in three postseason games for the Jags, putting up an impressive 242 yards and four touchdowns. But with a young James Robinson emerging from the shadows at training camp in 2020, the team looked for a willing partner in a Fournette trade. Coming up empty, management opted to release the fourth-year veteran, to which Tampa acted quickly.
Picked up by the Bucs, Fournette split backfield duties with Ronald Jones, LeSean McCoy and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Starting some games, coming off the bench for others, while also serving as a healthy scratch, the former LSU star was able to share an understanding with his new pal Tom Brady, while also trusting the overall process of the Buccaneers.
Helping his team to the postseason was just the beginning of the story for the New Orleans product. It was during this road to the Super Bowl where “Playoff Lenny” came into the fold once again.
“He just showed up big,” Brady said of his running mate. “It was amazing just how he performed in the biggest moments. I am just so proud of him.”
Rushing just 97 times for 367 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season, Fournette carried the ball 64 times for 300 yards in the playoffs. The Super Bowl saw the hefty back make 89 yards on 16 carries while putting up 46 yards receiving, to go alongside a touchdown in the big game. Fournette actually scored a touchdown in each of the four postseason games, tying Terrell Davis (1997) and Larry Fitzgerald (2008) as the only players to ever score touchdowns in four playoff games in one season.
Quick To Thank God
“It means everything,” Fournette said following his Super Bowl-winning performance. “From being cut, to going through my trials and tribulations throughout the season and now to be a world champion – I’m blessed. I’m blessed to be a part of this organization. My teammates for welcoming me, helping me become a better person and a better man, so I appreciate these guys.”
Often proving quick to thank God following his accomplishments as exhibited in high school, university and his NFL career, Fournette didn’t miss the opportunity on the grandest of stages this past February. But he was also sure to praise play-caller Tom Brady, his fellow teammates and his coaches as well.
“It felt good. I appreciate coach B, coach T-Mac, coach B-A for keeping me fresh. I’m 200-less carries than what I had, and I’m just blessed. I just thank my teammates and this organization for having me and bringing me in,” Fournette said. “Tom kept faith in us throughout the whole season. I’m just blessed to be next to this man. He is the G.O.A.T. He is the greatest player to ever play, and I can tell my kids I played with that man, and I’m just blessed.”
Having grown up in the Seventh Ward district of New Orleans, Fournette was raised as a Christian by his loving parents Lori and Leonard Sr. In joining a Buccaneers team chock-full of fellow believers, Fournette’s difficult season became much more manageable as the weeks went on. Now having fulfilled his contract and earning the title of Super Bowl champion, the six-foot, 235-pound running back has gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience heading into free agency.
“It’s crazy,” Fournette said moments after the game’s final whistle. “It’s a great story that I can tell my kids about keeping the faith, staying focused, a whole bunch of things. It was a tough year for me. As a competitor, you want to be out there, you want to compete. You want to play as hard as you can and help the team. In some games, I didn’t get a chance to help anyone, but in the long run, “Playoff Lenny” came alive, and I’m just blessed. I thank God each and every day that the Bucs gave me a second opportunity to play football and the game that I love. I’m just thankful.”
I thank God each and every day that the Bucs gave me a second opportunity to play football and the game that I love.
What The Future Holds
Although not tipping his cap in one direction or the other as to his plans moving forward, Fournette very well may explore free agency and make a payday of his postseason performance, or opt to stick with the winning recipe alongside Tom Brady and Co. in Tampa.
“We’ll see. You want to play for an organization that loves you,” Fournette told Pro Football Talk in mid-February. “Right now, I’m just enjoying the process right now with this ‘W’ with this organization and my team. You never know what the future holds for me right now, you know? I wound up ending on a great note. I’d love to be back. We’ll have to talk to my agent and see what they’re talking about.”
With much left on the horizon for Fournette employment-wise, the lumbering downhill runner need not look too far to find encouragement in times of trial.
“Whenever you don’t understand what’s happening in your life, just close your eyes,” Fournette posted on Twitter back on October 5. “Take a deep breath and say, ‘God, I know it’s your plan. Just help me through it.’”