NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Freshmen on the field is nothing new for LSU football, with 17 first-year Tigers seeing playing time this season, the most of any freshman class under head coach Les Miles.
A pair of New Orleans natives headlined the group with running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupre. JT Curtis coached Dupre in high school and knew his former player would make an early impact in Purple-and-Gold.
"Watching him since he was in junior high school and all the way through high school, you knew he had an opportunity and a chance to be successful because he brings something to the table that a lot of people forget about, and that's a great work ethic," Curtis said. "And an understanding that he was not going to go out there and dominate the game, he had to learn the game. He had to learn the game in college football."
Dupre is second on the team with his 318 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Leonard Fournette is LSU's leading rusher, piling up 891 yards and eight scores, though both players had to find their way after slow starts.
"It could have been very easy for Leonard to get down," Curtis said. "Early in the season, people were kinda scratching their head, saying where's the Fournette we saw in high school? Guess what? He wasn't playing in high school, he was playing in college. Leonard had to learn how to adjust his style of running to the college game, and he did that. As the season progressed, he learned to get the ball north and south. That he could not dance in the hole, he had to get behind those big linemen, get behind that big fullback. He had to get those yards, and whatever he got after that was a plus for him."
In 2013, Fournette's St. Aug. Purple Knights battled Dupre's John Curtis Patriots in a back-and-forth battle, which St. Aug. won 29-28 on the broad shoulders of Fournette. Coach JT Curtis believes the quality of prep football in Louisiana is a huge advantage for programs like LSU in both recruiting and cultivating elite talent.
"Very, very competitive," Curtis said. "I think the Superdome Classic, that arena and that environment, the competitive playoff all lend itself to the big time college football environment. With a school like LSU, you're able to recruit those kind of guys, and there's not quite as big of an adjustment, maybe as to some states where the environment is not as competitive."
As for the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly visited New Orleans a few weeks back, with Curtis senior defensive end Bo Wallace currently a Fighting Irish commitment. Kelly shared some insight into his upcoming game against the Tigers.
"Maybe I shouldn't say this, he'd probably get upset with me," Curtis joked. "He was really concerned about the LSU run game. They're a little young on defense, but you know what, the season's over. These guys are all sophomores now. It's no different from what we tell our guys. They've already played their 10, 11 games, and now they gotta take another step forward. And the bowl is an opportunity to do that. So LSU, Notre Dame, what a storied name of both institutions, I think it's gonna be a great football game. I fully expect LSU to win it, because of their physicalness on offense."
With 111 rushing yards Tuesday, Leonard Fournette will break LSU's freshman season-rushing record of 1,001, set by Justin Vincent back in 2003. Dupre can also join some elite company. With another touchdown, he would tie Michael Clayton's true freshman mark of six scores from 2001.