BATON ROUGE, La. — Leonard Fournette wasn’t joking around.
Fournette didn’t just leave the LSU football team in possession of a couple of school records. He also claimed ownership of No. 7, one of the school’s most iconic uniform numbers. From Rondell Mealey and Ali Highsmith to Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Fournette, some of the LSU football team’s most notable playmakers of the 21st century donned the 7.
And Fournette had a name in mind for who would take over for him. He was a friend, a former roommate and, apparently, an unsuspecting recipient: senior wide receiver D.J. Chark.
“Me and Leonard both were roommates when we first got here,” Chark said. “We talked a lot. At first it was a joke. But after talking to him and seeing that it was really something that could happen and then seeing how he embraced me with it. He’s a great guy and a great brother. I feel like I could carry it on for him.”
To Chark, Fournette’s support is the most incredible part of taking over this grand LSU tradition. Chark was predominantly a backup through his first three years in the purple and gold. He didn’t get his first catch until last season, when he broke out as a potent slot receiver threat alongside fellow scout-team alum and quarterback Danny Etling.
But long before the speedy Chark was one of the SEC’s five best wide receivers by yards per catch, Chark had Fournette is his corner. So when Chark took the practice field on Saturday, wearing No. 7 for the first time, he had to pass thanks back to the man who thought he could do it.
“You know Leonard,” Chark said. “He always supported me even when I wasn’t playing. It was a great feeling having him talk to me about it. I sent him a few pictures after I was wearing it. He was just telling me it was my time.”
Chark’s time coincides with an interesting period for LSU’s offense. Leonard Fournette is gone. So are Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural, Colin Jeter and DeSean Smith. Those players accounted for 105 of LSU’s 174 pass receptions last season, as well as 60 percent of Tigers receiving yards and half the team’s receiving touchdowns.
Offense is in his hands
Now Chark, who caught 26 passes for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, is LSU’s only returning player who caught more than 10 passes. Add in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and a new offensive scheme to boot, and Chark is among the few periods in a line of question marks.
But Chark doesn’t see it that way. Sure, the team doesn’t have Fournette to lean on anymore. But Derrius Guice is around as Fournette’s running back replacement. And the other receivers around him have something to prove.
If you thought it was hard for defenses to keep up with Chark when he wore No. 82, just wait until you see him in Canada’s offense wearing No. 7.
“It’s very fast. It’s nonstop moving all the time,” Chark said of the new LSU scheme. “You have a lot of guys who can make plays, getting the balls in their hands. It takes a lot of pressure of Derrius Guice. With all the moving pieces and all the talent being used, I feel like we’ll be a good offense.”