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Steelers OL Jerald Hawkins recalls unique recruiting visit with Leonard Fournette

January 9, 2018 GMT

Steelers offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins remembers hosting a particular recruiting visit while he was at LSU — and not just because it included a pair of five-star prospects and three future NFL players.

When Hawkins met a 6-foot-1, 226-pound Mack truck of a teenager from New Orleans, La., Hawkins didn’t think he was a skill-position player.

“I was like, ‘What are you, a linebacker? D-end?’ ” Hawkins recalled asking Leonard Fournette during Fournette’s 2013 visit to Baton Rouge. “He’s like, ‘No, running back.’

“I was like, ‘No!’ That big and with braces in his mouth! I was like, ‘C’mon, man.’ ”

Fournette has been awing people since high school, when he became the No. 1 recruit in the country. It continued while he rushed for 3,830 yards in only 32 college games and through being the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft and even when opposing NFL defenders encounter him.

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The Steelers on Sunday will have to once again deal with Fournette, 15 weeks after he had a career-high 181 rushing yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 30-9 victory against the Steelers. The Heinz Field rematch is 1:05 p.m. Sunday in an AFC divisional round playoff game.

The Steelers’ defense learned plenty about Fournette that day as he pounded them over 28 carries, a season high for an individual against them.

“We definitely could have contained him a lot better,” linebacker T.J. Watt said of Fournette. “Any time there’s that many yards rushing against our defense like that, we feel like that’s disrespectful.”

Though both are rookies, it wasn’t the first time Watt faced Fournette. Twice in college Watt’s Wisconsin Badgers played LSU. Watt isn’t the only Steelers defender to have faced Fournette in college. Cornerback Mike Hilton was a junior and senior at Ole Miss in splitting two SEC West games against Fournette’s Tigers.

“He’s a big dude,” Hilton said. “When he came in freshman year, he made an impact in the SEC — and he’s making an impact in the NFL now.”

Fournette had 1,040 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games this season and added 78 yards from scrimmage in Sunday’s wild-card playoff victory against Buffalo. His introduction to big-time football all began when he was on that recruiting visit that Hawkins hosted, alongside fellow future NFL players Kendall Beckwith and Tre’Davious White.

″ “Humble and great guy, always down to earth,” Hawkins said. “Like a big kid, took care of the O-line, always clowning with everybody. Great people person.“Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.