Kristian Fulton: Path to the NFL Draft
There is a well known saying in the world of sports: if you aren’t first, you’re last. Every year, the 32 NFL teams reset and hope that this year is the year that they are first, the winner of the Super Bowl. The journey to the Super Bowl begins each year with the NFL Draft and one prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft has that winning mentality flowing through his veins. After winning the College Football National Championship with LSU, cornerback Kristian Fulton knows how vital that mentality is.
“I bring that Championship mentality to a team. I’ve got that experience of being on winning teams, championship teams. I feel like I can bring that mentality to a team, in the locker room, and lead the way.”
His football journey has been littered with the experience of success, with championships, with accolades. He’s also had to overcome his fair share of adversity. The two have combined to produce a player that is ready to make an immediate impact on the NFL both on and off the field.
Finding a love for football in Louisiana
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Kristian Fulton was surrounded by football from a young age. His brother Keith played the game and watching him play had a profound impact on Kristian.
“Watching my brother play at like 6 or 7, I found the love at that time. I developed the love of the game from him. I didn’t know too much about, pay attention to, the NFL or college really until I was like my freshman year. Just watching him, definitely was my mentor, idol, growing up.”
Growing up in New Orleans gave Kristian Fulton an early taste of adversity as he was forced to evacuate to Georgia during Hurricane Katrina. On his return, however, he would get to experience the atmosphere of football success as the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in their first trip to football’s biggest game.
“It was something huge for New Orleans. It was a fun time. We were just getting back from Katrina and it was a special time for the city of New Orleans to experience that.”
It would also open his eyes to the opportunity that was available further down the line.
“Coming out of New Orleans, it was a dream but it was never something that you thought would ever really happen, you know, until you get older and you see other guys from New Orleans and they’re making it in the NFL. Then you realise that you have a legit chance to make it. That feeling didn’t really come to me until my freshman or sophomore year in high school.”
Kristian Fulton becomes a game wrecker at the Archbishop Rummel Raiders
Kristian Fulton played high school football in Louisiana for the Archbishop Rummel Raiders. Although not as lauded as Texas high school football, it was a great time for Louisiana state football with a rich vein of talented players.
“It was crazy, fun for sure. We had some amazing talent that came out in my years at high school. We had big time games, big time players, it was fun going against those guys. You’ve got guys like Leonard Fournette, Darrell Williams, guys that were great at high school. The level they were reaching at the time definitely put a light on Louisiana football, what we were doing down here.”
Kristian Fulton was one of those big-time players. During his final two seasons for the Raiders he would rack up 17 interceptions. He secured multiple interceptions in multiple games, most notably snagging three against Holy Cross and two against Brother Martin.
“At that time, I knew I was doing something pretty insane! You might have one game where you have multiple interceptions, but when you three or four games where you’re having two or three interceptions a game, obviously a certain amount of attention comes with that. Once I started getting that attention, started to find about rankings and all those things, it came to me that I was pretty good at what I was doing.”
Being recognised as a High School standout
His performances on the field would lead to several honours at the high school level. He was voted to the All-State team and named Defensive Player of the Year by the New Orleans Times amongst other honours. Archbishop Rummel gave Kristian Fulton the taste for football success that would come to define his career. During his time there the Raiders won State Championships in 2012 and 2013, as well as District Championships in 2014 and 2015.
“You set goals that you want to reach, and at that time I was reaching all those goals. It was definitely important to me as a player, but not only was I reaching those goals, but we were also winning! I feel like I had one of the best high school football experiences as far as football wise in accomplishments.”
Home is where the heart is as Kristian Fulton hits the recruiting trail
If Kristian Fulton had felt attention from his success on the football field at Archbishop Rummel, it would be nothing compared to the attention he would receive during the college recruiting process. Not only was he a 5* recruit, but he was also the number 1 prospect in Louisiana and the number 3 cornerback in the nation.
Naturally, there was no shortage of offers and interest.
“It was a crazy process for me. There was a lot of people coming at me that I wasn’t used to at all. There were a lot of coaches come, a lot of guys trying to find out where you were going. It was kind of a wild thing for me and my family to experience, we didn’t really know how to handle it. At the end of the day, I just went where my heart told me to go. With LSU being an in-state school, I was able to visit frequently. I built a relationship with the coaching staff that I felt like would help me become a better person, and a better football player. I just wanted to bring a National Championship back to LSU.”
Setting goals and achieving them had become a part of Kristian Fulton’s nature at high school. Sure enough, four years later he would leave Louisiana State University having achieved that goal he set when he committed.
Before that goal could be achieved, however, Kristian Fulton would have to face and overcome adversity on and off the field. The first two years at LSU would help mould him as a person and a player.
Overcoming adversity and learning the hard way
Coming into LSU as a 5* recruit in 2016, he had high hopes of making an immediate impact. Instead, he saw limited playing time, making just three appearances with no starts and no interceptions.
“You come in and you expect to start. Especially going to a highly rated school. It didn’t pan out that way. It kinda messed with me mentally, really. Like I said, you come in and expect to play but that’s not the case. You’ve got other guys that are NFL guys just like you, but they’ve been there longer so they gotta get their shot. It was a learning experience for me. I was able to learn a lot of football that year, so I don’t regret it.”
If 2016 had been difficult, 2017 became the most difficult time in Kristian Fulton’s life. He was handed a two-year suspension from the NCAA for tampering with a urine sample. He hadn’t cheated. There were no performance enhancing drugs. Just a young man panicking having had a smoke two days before. The unduly harsh suspension, with a greater penalty for tampering than you would receive for taking PEDs, was reduced to a year. However, he would be unable to take to the field on game day for that season.
“It was really hard. It’s a rare situation where you can’t play when it’s not because you’re hurt but you just can’t play for one mistake. I’ve learned how much football meant to me. How my decisions can affect others. That really was something that I learned that was big for me. Being able to appreciate the game. Becoming closer with my family, really. They helped me through that situation tremendously. There were a lot of things that I learned from that situation.”
2018 comeback is the beginning of greatness
Having battled through the adversity, Kristian Fulton emerged the other side determined to prove he was the best cornerback in college football, delivering on the promise that he’d shown in high school. That process began with his first start, and first college interception, against Miami in 2018.
“It was surreal, you know. Finally getting a chance to play at your dream school. It was a lot of emotions after all I’d been through those past 18 months. It was a surreal moment on a big stage. I just wanted to go out there, play my game, let the game come to me. That’s what I’d been training to do those past 18 months.”
The Miami game was just the beginning. By the end of the 2018 season Kristian Fulton had added 16 tackles, a forced fumble and was fourth in the SEC for passes defended. His reputation as one of the top cornerbacks in college football was solidifying. More than that, the foundations for a run at the 2019 College Football Championship had been laid.
“We knew we were bringing a good amount of starters back, with a lot of experience. Then with the offense that they bought in, we knew that we had a good chance to make a run at it. Coach O told us that it was about three plays that prevented us from being 11-1 and possibly getting there [in 2018] so we knew that the small things were what we needed to focus on to get where we wanted to be. The rest is history. We took every game one step at a time and we knew what our goal was.”
National Championship dream becomes reality
Bringing a College Football National Championship back to LSU, the first since 2007, had been Kristian Fulton’s goal since arriving at Tiger Stadium. In January, that dream became reality as LSU mauled Clemson 42-25 in his hometown stadium.
“It was probably one of the greatest times of my life. Just knowing what we came to LSU for, we finally did it. We knew we could do it the whole time. It was only a matter of time until we did the little things right and we saw how much those little things pay off. Whether they come from summer workouts or walk through days at practice. All that comes to mind is what you did to accomplish that.”
Alongside the College Football national Championship, 2019 was a year of personal achievement for Kristian Fulton. He was named Second Team All-SEC after allowing just a 40% completion percentage on his way to 14 passes defended. Despite all the on-field achievement, it was an off-field accomplishment that he takes most pride in.
“I would definitely say the graduation, for sure. Going through 2017, a rough year for me, but staying on track, staying focused on the long-term goal. Credit to the people at LSU, along with my family, they pushed me. They didn’t treat me like an outcast. They still wanted me to graduate, still wanted me to attend classes, all that stuff. There was so much that I went through to get that moment.”
Kristian Fulton shines at the NFL Combine
With a B.A. in Sport Administration and a College Football National Championship safely under his belt from his time at LSU, it was time for Kristian Fulton to focus on the next step on the path to the NFL Draft. His productive career at LSU had attracted the attention of staff at the Senior Bowl and he was invited to attend the premier college All- Star game.
Unfortunately for him, a family emergency would prevent him from playing, but that didn’t detract from the honour of being invited.
“It was a great opportunity to get that letter. You watch that game every year, just to see the guys that were on the team. Some of the best talent goes there. It was cool to get that invite. It was just unfortunate that I couldn’t participate in it.”
The Senior Bowl letter wasn’t the only invite to come the way of Kristian Fulton. The NFL Scouting Combine gave him an opportunity to show his athletic upside, but to answer some of the questions that may have arisen during his path to the NFL Draft.
“I think it went great. Answered a lot of questions that I think they had in my first-time meeting with teams. I got to let them see the real side of me, clear up any stories, or what they wanted to know. Also, good to talk football with them. I feel like I have a great football IQ for the game so that was pretty easy for me. Interviewed great. Ran a good 40 time, what I was aiming to get. I feel like I did exceptionally well in the drills. I feel like I had a check mark for every box.”
Kristian Fulton: "Do it all corner"
Having great football IQ is essential in helping make the switch to the NFL. Thankfully for Kristian Fulton, he classes that as one of the traits that helps define him as one of the best cornerback prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“My IQ for the game. Being a competitor and having that competitive spirit. Also, my technique as a corner. I think that’s one of the number one traits that you need to have as a corner to make it against big time receivers. You know they’re studying you, and you’re studying them. Just having a lot of tools as far as technique wise as a corner. Man to man skills. I can play man, I can play zone, I can play in the slot, I can play off-man. I feel like I can do it all as a corner.”
That football IQ also helps him to explain why analysts shouldn’t judge cornerback play off interception numbers alone.
“I feel like, as an LSU corner, we man to man. The only time you get an interception in man is if it’s a bad ball, a bad throw, something like that. I feel like I take away my man most of the game. So, I feel that goes as great cornerback play if you really know football. Interceptions mean a lot, trust me I know, but you can’t judge a player on interceptions alone.”
Great cornerback play is somewhat of an LSU speciality, with them often in the conversation as DBU. Fulton has played with a recent great LSU corner in Greedy Williams and a future great in Derek Stingley Jr. If he classes as the present, where do the three rank?
“I’m going me at one. I’m going…….Dang, why you gotta do me like that?! They’re my dawgs!”
The dream is about to come true for the Fulton family
With the NFL Draft less than three weeks away, Kristian Fulton is one of the hottest cornerback prospects around. He’s taking phone calls and Facetime meetings with several teams, with more to come. The most important phone call, however, will come somewhere between April 23rd and 25th.
“It’s gonna be a crazy feeling. Knowing that it’s paid off. I know that there’s more work to be done, more progress, but knowing that the 15 years of work that I put in for this moment has finally paid off. Just to tell my parents that the things that they’ve done for me, the sacrifices they made for me, has paid off. It’s not only going to change my life, but my family’s life, and that’s really all a person can ask for, to be able to take care of them and live their dream.”
Through success and adversity. With hard work and sacrifice. Kristian Fulton’s dream is about to come true.
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Feature Image Credit: Sports Illustrated
Huge thanks to Kristian Fulton for taking the time to talk to us. Also thanks to Tatiana Patton at Wasserman Football for connecting us.