In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back Leonard Fournette’s family was forced to relocate and he began his football career in a new city. His experience gave him perspective on what it means to be an NFL player, which he uses today as motivation for giving back to those who have less than him.
Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette to enter the NFL. The storm caused a lot of destruction, but it also shaped him into the player he is today.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — During Hurricane Katrina, the lights went out, the floodwaters rose, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette, then 10 years old, and his family had to rush to the I-10 Claiborne Avenue bridge in his hometown of New Orleans.
The Grand Palace Hotel on Canal Street, where they elected to stay during Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst storms to strike the continental United States, had caught fire.
Lory and Leonard Sr. were with Fournette, as well as his grandmother Lorraine Tyler, sisters LaNata and LaTae, and younger brother Lanard.
“The water was up to our necks,” Fournette told ESPN. “We couldn’t actually carry our grandparents through the river because the water was up to our necks.”
“They stole a boat from one of my father’s close friends, and we loaded our parents and grandparents into the boat and took them to the bridge from there… To be honest, I have no idea where he obtained the boat from.”
Things that Fournette, now 26, saw in the water that he can’t unsee, the weight of it all that he still carries on to with every stride and every carry, even now as one of the NFL’s best running backs seeking to lead his club to a second consecutive Super Bowl.
Only this year, he’ll do it in the No. 7 jersey, a homage to New Orleans’ Seventh Ward and the city he loves so much, and whose namesake, the New Orleans Saints, he’ll play at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) with the NFC South championship on the line.
Lory told ESPN, “It molded him.”
Fournette remarked, “I’m simply a testimonial to where I came from.” “Of course, I’m going to carry it.”
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It’s the same for many of the kids who, like him, grew up playing park ball at Goretti Playground and subsequently Hart Park, where the first thing they learn is how to drop in the case of a drive-by shooting rather than how to receive handoffs, catch passes, or tackle.
Crutchfield said, “That’s the first exercise we perform on the practice grounds.” “Every now and then, we’d get gunshots, so the first thing we did was a gun shot practice, similar to a fire drill at school.”
According to the FBI’s most current statistics, there were 4,516 occurrences of violent crime among New Orleans’ 394,498 citizens in 2019, making it one of the most dangerous big metropolitan areas in America. According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the Fifth and Seventh Wards have accounted for half of New Orleans’ violent felony offenses in the previous three years.
Fournette said, “We had to grow up quicker than everyone else.” “It’s not typical for a child my age to witness anything like that. We’re accustomed to murder, to individuals being slaughtered, and stuff like that growing up in the Seventh Ward. As though you were viewing it [right] in front of your eyes. In our exercise, the police were pursuing guys. We had no choice but to descend. It was a whirlwind of activity.”
Even though everyone from the Manning family to rap mogul Lil’ Wayne came out to see him play as the No. 1 high school player in Louisiana before moving on to be ESPN’s No. 1 recruit in the nation, those experiences didn’t harden him, and his football achievements and notoriety didn’t alter him. He was more concerned with leading his squad than with individual accolades.
In 2013, Fournette startled the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club when he handed the trophy to Eugene Wells, a quarterback from rival East Jefferson High School who led his team to a state title, in the midst of his acceptance speech.
“He handed him the trophy and told him, ‘You’re more deserved than I am,’” says the author. Crutchfield remembered something. “He was taken aback. Who does that, after all?”
‘He wears his city on his sleeve,’ says one observer.
Without a doubt, Fournette was lucky to survive. But he hasn’t forgotten about his family, who still lives in his hometown. Return visits are common. Every time, children clamber for an opportunity to meet him. It generates a lot of excitement in the city.
“It’s ‘Coach, Coach, is Fournette home?’ as soon as he lands in New Orleans. ‘Is Fournette at home?’” Crutchfield expressed his thoughts. “It seems like the first thing I hear wherever I go is, ‘I’m going to be the next Leonard Fournette.’”
Crutchfield added, “It offers them a ray of hope.” “Not only is he the pulse of the city, but of the whole state of Louisiana.”
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Kenny Chenier, a high school classmate who made a documentary about Fournette, added: “He’s from around the corner, so to speak. ‘Wow,’ they exclaim as they stare at him. If he can do it, I’m sure I can too.’ There is a strong sense of connection.”
There, Fournette runs a football camp that attracts between 300 and 400 youngsters. Crutchfield recalls that each camper was given a drone two years ago. But, more significantly, he has been very giving with his time. Those who know him best believe he has a high level of emotional intelligence and sensitivity.
“He’s a local hero and a hometown man. He proudly wears his hometown on his sleeve “Chenier explained. “He is constantly talking about the city, the Seventh Ward, and the full story behind the number change. Even though he’s been gone for a long between Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, he’s still very much involved with the city.”
Following Hurricane Ida this year, Fournette gave $50,000 to Hurricane Ida relief efforts in Louisiana, which was matched by friend and teammate Tom Brady. The NFL Foundation gave $25,000, while the Buccaneers gave $15,000. Others have been urged to do the same, whether via contributions or gift cards.
“At the end of the day, what doesn’t break us makes us stronger,” Fournette remarked. “That’s how we constructed down there,” says the narrator.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, he also gave 56,000 meals to New Orleans families in need, as well as $50,000 when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
“That’s one of Leonard’s most endearing qualities. He never loses touch with what’s going on at home, even when he’s in Florida for work. He never loses sight of his position on the stage “Chenier said. “He’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on and where the requirements are. That’s where he’s at his most vulnerable…. It provides a significant lift.”
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The “leonard fournette home” is a great example of how Hurricane Katrina shaped Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette. The hurricane caused a lot of damage to the area, and it was difficult for the team to find a place to practice.
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