BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's been exhausting enough to just watch the events unfold on television, but actually living the nightmare must be another level of unspeakable agony.
Unfathomable amounts of water and excessive piles of garbage have dominated our local headlines, but obviously, not the national ones. We have schools that aren't expected to open again for months. There are countless amounts of people who have lost their homes. Simply turning the page won't be easy. This will be a tremendously taxing, collective, community grind.
Football will undoubtedly be counted on to heal. Anyone who lives here, who understands our culture, would never dare refer to the sport as "just a game." It is our fall, our way of life. We admit it - sure, we probably make football way too important. But we quickly shrug that off and proceed as usual. Tailgates, road trips, house parties and obviously, Tiger Stadium - that's how we roll in Louisiana.
The 2016 LSU season continues to shoulder more and more weight with each passing day. In the spring, it was simply a team with 18 of a possible 22 starters returning, including the likes of Tre'Davious White and Kendell Beckwith, who both spurned the NFL for one more shot at national championship glory. Then, as we progressed into the summer, came the need for the Tigers to also unite the Baton Rouge community in the aftermath of deadly shootings and extreme racial tension. And now, with the start of the season opener vs. Wisconsin roughly two weeks away, comes another huge layer of emotion and heaviness, with thousands looking to LSU to lift their spirits in the wake of a crushing natural disaster.
We all need heroes, people to admire, who make us feel better. Obviously, they were fictional and goofy characters, but as a kid, I couldn't wait to watch Bo and Luke Duke soar the General Lee through the air on Friday nights. Heading toward my teenage years, it was all about Eddie Van Halen shredding on the guitar and Tommy Hodson firing a football. Then, Michael Jordan took over everything.
Right now, the people of Louisiana long for pleasant diversions and reasons to smile. LSU junior running back Leonard Fournette continues to deliver again and again on all counts. A large chunk of the LSU team Thursday afternoon visited flooding victims gathered at the shelter at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge. Each person seemed tremendously grateful for the visit and the opportunity to meet each and every Tiger. But make no mistake, Mr. Fournette was the undisputed headliner in this packed and star-studded lineup.
Fans young and old, mostly smiling ear to ear, rushed to their favorite mountain of muscle running back, longing for their one special moment and memory with "Buga." People want to see Fournette flash his trademark smile and in this case, consume a massive building with the warmth of an individual who truly cares. Because he does. As it's been very well-documented, Fournette and his family suffered through Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago. As he told us Thursday, nobody came to help them in New Orleans, so you better believe Fournette would immediately seize the opportunity to aid those dealing with their own despair in the wake of a storm.
In this case, the storm has no name, which is a weird twist on a new jolting reality. He is a nationally known superstar, a powerful All-American machine that churned out nearly 2,000 yards rushing last season. Fournette has the blazing speed to outrun an entire defense and the power to run over each defensive player also.
A few Alabama fans will dip into your Twitter mentions and Facebook discussions (uninvited obviously) taunting Fournette and boasting how the Crimson Tide stonewalled him to just 31 yards on 19 carries a season ago. Indeed, that happened and was brutal for LSU fans to witness in a 30-16 Bama rout. But I just have a hunch Mr. Fournette has been thinking about and motivated by that humbling setback all summer. And I would likewise guess he certainly looks forward to writing a new and much different chapter on November 5 in Death Valley. Time will tell.
Fournette was in a walking boot Thursday, a sight that would normally be viewed as a slight catastrophe. And, although he walked with a limp, LSU has deemed the injury just a slight ankle sprain. Fournette told us he'll be all right and will play against Wisconsin. Time will tell on that, too.
But on this occasion Thursday afternoon at Celtic Studios, an injury, serious or not, was completely irrelevant. Flood victims needed to be inspired and allow their minds to wander from a painful reality for a little while. Leonard Fournette filled that void temporarily and simply exceeded what was necessary of him again. Despite countless people yanking on him and yelling his name from all directions, Fournette never displays a hint of irritation or fatigue. He's all in and always understands his social importance and significance. I've witnessed this from him time and time again, no matter the setting or surroundings.
This fall, Fournette scoring electrifying touchdowns and ripping off SportsCenter Top 10 highlight runs won't rebuild homes in Denham Springs or bring back the lives of those gunned down in Baton Rouge. But he can warm and exhilarate everyone's hearts as Louisiana's true college football rock star and rallying force - the guy we all wish to claim as our own. Each Saturday, Fournette will carry the hopes and emotions of an entire region down the field, along with that football firmly gripped in his muscular arm. LSU winning a national or even SEC championship would be tremendous for so many. Hopefully, when Christmas rolls around this year, many of the painful problems that plagued our community this summer are largely behind us, the Tigers are playing for something extremely significant in the postseason and Fournette has earned a very substantial individual award in New York City.
Run Leonard, run.