Thursday, September 20, 2018

Kristian Fulton: The Fighting Tiger

The LSU football program has long referred to it itself as “DBU” (Defensive Back University) and contains a hallowed lineage of Tiger cornerbacks and safeties who have paved their way into the highest level of professional football in the National Football League. Kristian Fulton, hailing from Metairie, Louisiana, was hoping to continue the trend as the latest talented cornerback to emerge from LSU.

After playing in just three games as a true freshman, the former five-star cornerback was poised for a bigger role in the secondary with the loss of both safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre’Davious White to the 2017 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Fulton’s collegiate career would suffer a major setback when it came time for him to submit to an NCAA Performance Enhancing Drug test on February 2, 2017.

In the early hours of that Friday morning, Fulton was caught using the urine of somebody else as he thought the test was one for street drugs (i.e. heroin, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, etc.) instead of PED’s. The test administer noticed that Fulton had been dumping out a portion of the small bottle into the beaker which he was supposed to fill with his own urine. When Fulton was confronted, he emptied the beaker’s contents into a urinal and proceeded to use his own urine sample to fill it.

Six days later, the NCAA hit Fulton with a violation of Section 3.4 of the NCAA Drug-Testing Program Protocol. In short, the provision stated that a person who tampered with a NCAA drug-test sample would be suspended for two seasons. Fulton appealed his suspension, but on March 8, 2017, the NCAA appeals committee rejected his request.

For the entire 2017 season, Kristian Fulton could do nothing but watch as the Tigers posted a 9-4 (6-2 SEC) record without him. Though LSU put up quality defensive numbers in 2017, Fulton’s suspension was a blow to their secondary as he was the No. 22 overall recruit in the country and the No. 1 prospect in the state of Louisiana when he committed to the Bayou Bengals. To make a terrible situation even worse, the Tigers had lost out on an entire season to develop Fulton into the team’s next potential star cornerback.

Despite having to miss what would have been his sophomore season, Fulton did not give up his legal battle. He reached out to Alabama-based sports attorney Don Jackson, who played college baseball at Alabama State University before obtaining his law degree from the University of Virginia. Jackson took up Fulton’s case in the summer of 2017 and began to look more closely into the circumstances surrounding the drug test and suspension. In his yearlong investigation, Jackson discovered that the appropriate drug-testing protocol had not been adhered to during Fulton’s screening.

On May 31, 2018, a New York forensics panel concurred with Jackson and Fulton that the correct drug-testing procedures had not been complied with. This brought up chain of custody issues regarding how the urine specimen was handled and transferred. As Section 7.5 of the NCAA Drug-Testing Program Protocol stated: “If chain of custody is broken at any point in the process, the NCAA may collect another specimen.” With this new evidence, Jackson filed a motion for reconsideration on July 27, 2018, and the NCAA reopened Fulton’s case.

A week later, LSU sent a letter to the NCAA reconsideration committee arguing for Fulton’s eligibility, but the NCAA came back with yet another denial six days later. However, the university would not quit in its fight for Fulton’s collegiate career as a Tiger. On August 17, 2018, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva wrote to the NCAA interpretation panel with a four-page letter stating that Fulton had been erroneously punished. Alleva claimed that instead of tampering, Fulton should have been charged with “urine substitution”.

This distinction is huge as urine substitution carried only a one-year ban with it as opposed to the two-year sentence associated with tampering. Upon reviewing Alleva’s argument, the NCAA interpretation panel agreed with him and ruled that Fulton was to be immediately reinstated. After a 19-month battle, Fulton was now able to once again dawn the purple and gold.

This was a huge legal victory for both Fulton and the LSU team as a whole. After finishing the 2017 campaign 9th in Team Passing Efficiency Defense (110.89), 12th in Total Defense (316 Yards Per Game), 21st in Passing Yards Allowed (187.6), and 54th in Passes Intercepted (12), LSU’s defense will look to improve upon these numbers with Fulton’s return. 

On September 2, 2018, the underdog No. 25 LSU Tigers kicked off their season against the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes in the 2018 Advocare Classic in Arlington, Texas. More importantly, Kristian Fulton took the field for the first time since December 31, 2016. He registered three total tackles (two of them were solo) with two passes defended as the Tigers stunned the Hurricanes in a 33-17 upset.