Leonard Fournette couldn’t stick around for the entirety of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room celebration after ousting the Green Bay Packers 31-26 in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Instead, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine, the fourth-year running back excused himself to phone his parents, and couldn’t hold back the emotion as he recalled his journey from jail to potentially starting Super Bowl LV.
“I was crying for like 30 minutes,” Fournette said of the conversation during his postgame press conference. “It’s about my journey. … From me going to jail, [and] from me getting cut. I think it’s just a wonderful story how it’s playing out.”
Fournette’s latest chapter was highlighted by an acrobatic 20-yard touchdown run to put the Bucs ahead early in the second quarter against the Packers — a lead they never relinquished despite three second-half turnovers on offense.
The 6-foot, 228-pound bruiser finished the day with a team-leading 55 yards on 12 carries, continuing his resurgence from the bottom of Tampa’s depth chart since earlier in the regular season. Fournette has been the clear workhorse for Bruce Arians this postseason, racking up 313 scrimmage yards (211 rushing) and three touchdowns on 80 touches over the last three games.
Fournette’s Roller Coaster Journey to Tampa
In 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars surprised many pundits by making the former LSU star the No. 4 overall pick of the draft. Early on, it looked like the team had added a star in Fournette, who posted two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first three years as a pro.
After 6-10 and 5-11 finishes in 2018 and 2019, the Jaguars cut Fournette right before the start of the 2020 season due to changes in the team’s offensive philosophies and culture, per Sporting News’ Tadd Haislop.
Fournette has also battled his fair share of injuries to date, according to Haislop, though off-field issues haven’t helped his cause either. In April 2019, the then-24-year-old was arrested for knowingly driving on a suspended license as a result of his failure to pay a November 2018 speeding ticket for $204, according to John Reid of the Florida-Times Union.
After signing with Tampa following his departure from Jacksonville, Fournette had high hopes in joining star quarterback Tom Brady and a loaded Buccaneers offense. He said in Sunday’s press conference that he “just felt like it was going to be right” for himself, joining a deep backfield with up-and-comer Ronald Jones II and veteran LeSean McCoy.
“I had hopes of being a starter and it didn’t work out,” Fournette explained on Sunday.
From a 103-yard performance in the Bucs’ second game at Carolina on September 20 to being scratched from the lineup for a December 13 matchup against Minnesota, Fournette added that things were “up and down this whole season.” Overall, he mustered a career-low 97 carries and 367 yards in 13 regular season games.
Fournette Credits Teammates, Coaches for Growth This Season
Fournette later admitted on Sunday that he was upset many times about receiving so few carries in 2020. He credited support from teammates like Brady, running backs coach Todd McNair and head coach Bruce Arians in helping him find his way this season.
“When things wasn’t going my way, a lot of guys was talking to me — AB [Antonio Brown], Shady [McCoy], or even Tom [Brady],” Fournette told reporters after Sunday’s win. “They kept saying, ‘You know who you are, you know you are a great talent, (and) you know it’s going to come’ — it’s paying off at the end.”
Opportunity knocked in the playoffs when Jones sat out the team’s NFC Wild Card game at Washington due to quad injury. Fournette rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown in the win and earned the starting job against New Orleans in the Divisional Round. The 26-year-old scored another touchdown against the Saints, in addition to his 55 rushing yards and team-leading five receptions.
Fournette will look to keep his postseason resurgence going on February 7 when the Bucs become the first team to ever host the Super Bowl on their home field — and give his family a call about the latest part of his journey, too.
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