COLUMBUS — One of the most impressive moments of Julian Fleming’s high school career came when he wasn’t even playing wide receiver.
In one of Fleming’s three state title wins, he was playing defense when a slip screen on the opposite side of the field turned into a big gain. Fleming, playing cornerback, ran across the field at full speed to catch the ball-carrier, strip the ball away and regain possession for South Columbia High.
Those are the kinds of plays that make Julian Fleming one of the top prospects in the country for his recruiting class. And even Jim Roth, who coached the star recruit to those three titles, was impressed every time he watched Fleming play.
“He worked at doing a good job at every aspect, some of those areas that are not going to get your name in the paper or put you in the end zone,” Roth said.
Fleming has always been willing to do the dirty work, never taking plays off or slacking despite his high profile and his obvious skill advantage over every opponent he’s ever faced. That will certainly change this season at Ohio State, but Fleming is ready for the challenge. He embraces competition, which explains why the No. 1 wide receiver in the country chose to join three other top prospects at his position in the same Buckeyes recruiting class.
It also explains why Fleming, no matter the distance, would show off his impressive attributes just to do more dirty work for his high school teammates.
“We would be kind of amazed that somebody who has accomplished what he has accomplished and is in his position would sprint for 30 or 40 yards to try to get in front of a running back downfield to throw a block,” Roth said. “When the college coaches saw that, it jumped out.”
Everything about Fleming jumps out, even at Ohio State. A true freshman isn’t supposed to look the way Fleming looked when he showed up on campus to begin winter workouts in December. His size and ability mixed with the strength he has built — even when no gyms were open except the private weight room he was able to access during the pandemic.
The dirty work has always been fun for Fleming. But so is racking up receiving yards and finding the end zone more times than anyone in Pennsylvania high school history. Any record book printed before Julian Fleming began his high school career is outdated and inaccurate. He made setting records seem easy.
And he didn’t even play full games. He was too good for the competition.
“We won three state titles in a row and were 16-0, so those guys weren’t playing a lot in the second half,” Roth said. “That’s what makes his numbers that much more impressive is that those numbers were accumulated on limited time. Obviously, we’ve had more games than some schools because of the playoffs, but a lot of times, he wasn’t out there in the second halves of games.”
When he was out on the field, Fleming made sure to prioritize everything other than catching the ball and making defenders look silly. And he was sure to send Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline the blocking clips before sending his insane highlight reel.
“That was always the first thing I was sent him, for sure,” Fleming said in February. “You know there’s a lot of other things that go into playing receiver than just catching the football and being able to do things with the football, so that was one of the things I liked.”
Fleming has never shied away from doing the small stuff, even as his profile continued to grow larger and he became the best in the country at his position. So there’s no reason to think he’ll have trouble adapting to the Ohio State offense, where wide receivers are called upon to block — and be good at it.
The stat-sheet highlights were fun, of course. But Fleming has always cared about the plays that didn’t make headlines. It didn’t matter, because the jaw-dropping touchdowns on his highlight reel were well-documented.
And that won’t change at Ohio State.
Fleming will still be throwing blocks and doing whatever he can to help his team win. This time, the competition will be tougher, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll keep doing things that won’t get his name in the paper.
But Julian Fleming’s name will still be in there when he’s catching touchdowns for his new team.