JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Leonard Fournette was a big part of the beginning of the Raines High School football team’s 2017 season, so it’s only fitting that he’s a significant part of the end of it, too.
The school was able to purchase 85 rings for players and coaches to commemorate the state championship it won in the fall, but didn’t have enough funds to purchase jackets. That’s when the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ second-year running back partnered with MET-Rx to donate the remaining funds needed to ensure the players and coaches each received a jacket.
“They were very humbled,” Raines head football coach Deran Wiley said of his players. “They were very grateful.
“When I told them, those guys, the look in their eyes, they were very, very thankful.”
This is the second time Fournette and the supplement company have combined to help the Raines High School football program. They partnered to melt down some of Fournette’s old football trophies and turn them into a set of weights, which they presented to the school last summer.
“I think everyone should give back,” Fournette said. “No matter what’s going on in your life I think the best thing for you is to give back, and I had the opportunity to do that. … When I was in high school I wish someone came back and gave to us, so I just want to be that next generation of leader and do a lot of things by example.
“Whatever school needs help. As long as I’m here in Jacksonville still playing, my arms are open wide to any school. I want to see everybody prosper.”
As important as the weights and jackets are, Wiley said it was the time Fournette spent with the players on the day the weights were donated that had the most impact. Not only did Fournette talk with them, joke around, and give a short motivational speech, but he also spoke via FaceTime with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — who, like Fournette, is a former LSU star — and gave several players a ride in his Mercedes-Maybach.
It’s not unusual for former NFL players to be around the program. Raines High School has produced numerous NFL stars, including Lito Sheppard, Harold Carmichael, Brian Dawkins, and Shawn Jefferson — in addition to countless Football Bowl Subdivision standouts. Players often stop by the school to visit or help out, and many have donated money to the program. The program’s weight room, for example, is named after Dawkins.
Those players have ties to the program, though. Fournette doesn’t, and that’s what made his visit special, Wiley said.
It’s happening pic.twitter.com/Z6nS1C327n
— D Wiley (@dwileyb01) June 16, 2017
“What makes it feel natural and a little normal is our former players, because we have so many,” Wiley said. “Brian’s been here numerous times and been generous with his donations as well to the facilities, equipment and all those things. To get this guy, Leonard Fournette, who has no connection, it was just huge. It felt big. The whole time he was here it felt big. It was a ‘wow’ moment.
“You could tell his genuineness to be here and to talk to the kids, not forgetting where he came from. … It was a great moment for us and one I won’t forget.”
It turned into a season Fournette won’t forget, either. The Vikings went 13-1 and won the Class 4A state title, beating Cocoa High School 13-10 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. They scored the go-ahead touchdown on Ivory Durham’s 8-yard pass to receiver Kamaree Noble with 5:41 remaining.
That victory came nearly 20 years to the day after Raines won its first state title in 1997. Raines is the only public school from Duval County — which encompasses the entire city of Jacksonville — to win a state championship in football.
That’s why Noble said he’s eagerly awaiting his jacket.
“I’ll wear it every day! You feel me?” Noble said. “We won a state championship! A lot of people can’t say that.”
Fournette is one of them. He rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns in his four-year career at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. He was the 2013 USA Today High School Football Offensive Player of the Year, too. But his teams never won a state title, so he’s taking a lot of satisfaction in his adopted school’s success.
“I’m not going to say I was out there running with them and lifting weights, but it feels good to be a part of that just a little bit and just to see those guys become successful on the next level,” Fournette said.
As far as Wiley is concerned, Fournette certainly deserves a piece of the Vikings’ latest title.
“The road to [a state title] there’s a lot of great people along the way that you have to thank,” Wiley said. “He’s definitely one of the guys I would have to thank.”