How Hurricane Katrina shaped Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette

How Hurricane Katrina shaped Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette

TAMPA, Fla. — The lights went out, the flood waters have been rising, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers working again Leonard Fournette, then 10 years outdated, and his household needed to get to the Claiborne Avenue overpass of I-10 in his hometown of New Orleans shortly throughout Hurricane Katrina.

The Grand Palace Hotel on Canal Street, the place they selected to trip out Katrina, one of the catastrophic hurricanes to hit the continental United States, had caught on hearth.

Fournette was together with his mother and father, Lory and Leonard Sr.; his grandmother, Lorraine Tyler; his sisters LaNata and LaTae and youthful brother, Lanard.

“The water was so high, we couldn’t really carry our grandparents through the water, because the water was up to our necks,” Fournette instructed ESPN.

“One of my father’s good friends, they stole a boat, and we put our parents and grandparents on the boat and carried them to the bridge from there. … I don’t know where the hell he got that boat from, to be honest.”

There are issues that Fournette, now 26, witnessed that also hang-out him to this present day — issues within the water that he can not unsee — the burden of all of it during which he nonetheless holds onto, with each step and each carry, even now as one of many NFL’s high working backs making an attempt to assist lead his workforce to a second consecutive Super Bowl.

Only this yr, he is doing it sporting the No. 7, a nod to the New Orleans’ Seventh Ward and the town he cherishes so deeply, whose namesake, the New Orleans Saints, he faces Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) at Raymond James Stadium with the NFC South title on the road.

“It shaped him,” Lory instructed ESPN.

“I’m just a testament to where I come from,” Fournette mentioned. “So of course I’m gonna carry that.”

For 4 nights he and his household slept beneath a rain-soaked sheet on that bridge and recited scripture. The one Lory remembers most? Ecclesiastes 11:1. It reads, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”

They took journeys to Lory’s sister-in-law’s home and the Circle Food Store on the backside of the ramp on St. Bernard Avenue, the place they sought out meals and child method. They positioned a barbecue grill and cooked for a number of survivors, though Lory did not eat. She could not.

“If it wasn’t for our faith, I think we would have had a nervous breakdown,” Lory mentioned. “It was that bad.”

Inside the Superdome — house of the Saints — Lory’s nephew, who’d simply enlisted within the Air Force, stayed up all evening watching over Lory’s mom, two sisters and their husbands and her different nephew whereas they slept.

The household was compelled to relocate to a shelter 540 miles away in Portland, Texas, close to Corpus Christi, for a yr whereas Fournette’s father and grandfather constructed their new house in Slidell, Louisiana — which is about 30 miles exterior of New Orleans. Of the 1.5 million individuals who fled their houses from the Gulf Coast area, about 600,000 evacuees, principally from Louisiana, couldn’t return to their houses, in line with the Center for American Progress.

The medical remedy they gave Fournette, designed to assist him and different survivors uncovered to varied pathogens and ailments widespread in pure disasters, made him throw up for days.

“We had to get the shots to clean us out and most of us was sick for like the first two weeks of school,” Fournette mentioned.

“It was traumatic. It really was,” Lory mentioned. “You just can’t take things for granted. You really have gotta be thankful for people, for water, lights, a roof over your head. You just have to be thankful. I think it’s really grounded him.”

‘We needed to develop up quicker’

Fournette credit soccer for being one of many few constants in his life, serving to him via the turbulent aftermath of Katrina and navigating his childhood within the Seventh Ward, one of the harmful neighborhoods within the United States.

“It was like a safe-haven,” mentioned Cyril Crutchfield, Fournette’s coach at St. Augustine High School. “That was the only normalcy that those young men had.”

It’s like that for most of the youngsters who, like him, grew up enjoying park ball at Goretti Playground and later Hart Park, the place the very first thing they be taught is not find out how to take handoffs, catch passes or deal with: It’s find out how to drop within the occasion of a drive-by capturing.

“That’s the first drill we do in the practice fields,” Crutchfield mentioned. “Every now and then, we’d have gunfire, so the first thing we do — kinda like in school, a fire drill — we had a gun shot drill.”

In 2019, there have been 4,516 incidents involving violent crime among the many 394,498 residents in New Orleans, in line with the FBI’s most not too long ago launched information, making it one of the violent main metropolitan cities in America. According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, 50% of New Orleans’ violent felony crimes during the last three years has occurred within the Fifth and Seventh Wards.

“We had to grow up faster than everyone else,” Fournette mentioned. “It’s not normal for a kid my age [to see that]. Growing up in the Seventh Ward — we’re used to murder, used to guys getting killed — things like that. Like you witnessing that, [right] before your eyes. … We had the cops chasing guys in our practice. We had to get down. It was all types of stuff going on.”

Those experiences did not harden him, and his soccer accolades and recognition did not change him, even when everybody from the Manning household to rap mogul Lil’ Wayne got here out to observe him play because the No. 1 highschool participant within the state of Louisiana earlier than occurring to be ESPN’s No. 1 recruit within the nation. He cared extra about carrying his workforce than particular person honors.

In 2013, Fournette shocked the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club when, in the midst of his speech accepting their Player of the Year award, he carried the trophy over to Eugene Wells, a quarterback at rival East Jefferson High School who guided his workforce to a state championship.

“He gave the award to him and said, ‘You’re more deserving than me,'” Crutchfield recalled. “He was shocked. Because who does that?”

‘He wears his metropolis on his sleeve’

No query, Fournette was lucky to make it out. But he hasn’t forgotten about house, the place his household nonetheless resides. There are frequent visits again. Each time, youngsters clamor for an opportunity to satisfy him. It creates a buzz within the metropolis.

“As soon as he touches down in New Orleans, it’s, ‘Coach, Coach, is Fournette home? Fournette home?'” Crutchfield mentioned. “It seems like everywhere I go, the first thing [I hear] is, ‘I’m gonna be the next Leonard Fournette.'”

“It gives them a glimmer of a hope,” Crutchfield, mentioned. “He’s the heartbeat of not just the city, but the state of Louisiana.”

Added pal Kenny Chenier, who produced a documentary on Fournette as a excessive schooler: “He’s from their neighborhood, so to speak. They look at him as, ‘Wow. If he can make it, maybe I can make it.’ There is very much that attachment.”

Fournette hosts a soccer camp there that attracts anyplace from 300 to 400 youngsters. Crutchfield remembers two years in the past, every camper was given a drone. But extra importantly, he is been beneficiant together with his time. Those closest to him really feel he has a excessive diploma of emotional intelligence and empathy.

“He’s the hometown guy, the hometown hero. He wears his city on his sleeve,” Chenier mentioned. “He always talks about the city, always talks about the Seventh Ward, the whole thing behind the number change. He’s very much engaged in the city even though he’s been away for a while between Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.”

In the wake of Hurricane Ida this yr, Fournette donated $50,000 to rebuilding efforts within the state of Louisiana, which pal and teammate Tom Brady matched. The NFL Foundation contributed $25,000 and the Buccaneers $15,000. He’s inspired others to take action, too, whether or not or not it’s via donations or reward playing cards.

“What don’t break us make us stronger at the end of the day,” Fournette mentioned. “That’s how we built down there.”

He additionally donated 56,000 meals to New Orleans households in want on the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and $50,000 when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston.

“That’s the beautiful thing about Leonard. Even though he’s in Florida for his occupation, he never loses touch with what’s going on at home. He never loses sight of the platform that he has,” Chenier mentioned. “[He’s got] his pulse on where the needs are and what’s going on. That’s where his heart is. … It gives a tremendous boost.”

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