The journey from being the primary option your entire athletic career to being cut by the team that drafted you, then being a healthy scratch with your new team, can take a toll on a professional athlete. For Bucs running back Leonard Fournette, to say it was a blow to his ego would be an understatement.
“Yeah, it was going into the end of the season, and he was unsure of what his role was, or unhappy with what his role was,” Arians said. “We had a walk-through and he was a little bit disinterested. And we had a nice conversation. I said, ‘look, when you come back on this field, you have 30 seconds to come back here and tell me that you’re all in, or you’re going to ask me to release you. Go inside, call whoever. But you’re not going to sit over there away from everybody. You have a tough decision’.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
“I mean he had been the guy everywhere he’d ever been his whole life. And (at this time) he wasn’t the guy and it was hard for him. And I respected that, but he had to make a decision then and there. Because we weren’t going to have anyone who was pouting going down the stretch. We couldn’t afford it. He came back in 30 minutes and said, ‘Coach, I’m all in’. I said ‘great, because we are going to need you’. Then RoJo got hurt and Lenny came right to the front and led us all the way.”
Fournette had 97 carries for 367 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in the regular season. He added 36 receptions for 233 receiving yards, but struggled with drops. But the former fourth overall pick took his game to a new level in the playoffs.
“My mindset, coming in with a different mindset,” Fournette said back in March after signing a new one-year deal to remain in Tampa Bay.”Whatever is thrown my way…look at the positive instead of the negative. That is where I grew.”
Soon after his meeting with Arians, Fournette claimed the lead back role, posting 64 carries for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason. The veteran added 25 receptions for 192 yards and another score as a receiver. Fournette went from nearly being cut to earning the nickname, “Playoff Lenny”, then “Lombardi Lenny.”
After winning the Super Bowl over the Chiefs, Fournette spoke to the media and summed up his whirlwind of a year.
“It’s crazy. It’s a great story that I can tell my kids about keeping faith, staying focused, a whole bunch of things,” Fournette said. “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. 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.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com
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