While the first two years of Julian Fleming’s Ohio State career haven’t lived up to expectations, momentum finally appears to be on his side entering his third season as a Buckeye.
Fleming was one of seven players named by Ohio State last week as an Iron Buckeye, an honor bestowed upon the players who show “unquestionable training dedication, determination, discipline, toughness, leadership and grind” during offseason workouts. While that doesn’t guarantee Fleming will play a big role on the field this season, Ryan Day said Thursday that players who have earned that honor in past years have often gone on to make a big impact in games.
“When you look at the guys who have had those recognitions, the carryover on the field has been tremendous,” Day said. “All the things that we ask you to do on the football field carry over to what (Mickey Marotti and his strength and conditioning staff) does in the offseason. So it certainly doesn't guarantee you anything, but it gives you one heck of a chance.”
IRON. BUCKEYES. pic.twitter.com/U0gs4AtDYd— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) August 4, 2022
Specifically in regard to Fleming, Day said the junior wide receiver took his performance to a new level this spring and summer.
“Julian Fleming had the best offseason he's had to this point,” Day said. “He was an Iron Buckeye, one of the most improved. That was excellent.”
There’s been plenty of hype surrounding Fleming since well before he took a snap at Ohio State. As the No. 3 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2020, Fleming is the highest-ranked wide receiver prospect to ever sign with the Buckeyes. The Catawissa, Pennsylvania native’s first two seasons at Ohio State, however, have been defined more by injury setbacks than anything he’s done on the field. So far, he has only 19 career catches for 160 yards and one touchdown.
Going into his third season, Fleming might have his best shot yet at earning a starting job in Ohio State’s offense, but that’s far from certain. With Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. set to lead Ohio State’s receiving corps, Fleming is competing with Emeka Egbuka for the third starting spot at wide receiver.
Egbuka was a top-10 overall prospect in his recruiting class, too, and flashed tons of playmaking upside last season as a true freshman, when he had 191 receiving yards on just nine catches as well as 580 kickoff return yards on only 20 returns.
If Fleming is going to see a significant increase in playing time for the Buckeyes this year, he’s going to have to prove he deserves it in preseason camp. Earning Iron Buckeye honors this offseason, though, suggests he’s already made progress toward achieving that.
There remain plenty of believers inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center who think Fleming will soon show why he was such a highly touted talent when he arrived at Ohio State. Starting quarterback C.J. Stroud, who will play a large role in determining how targets Fleming sees this season, is among those believers.
“Y’all will see. Trust me. Y’all gonna see it,” Stroud said when asked about Fleming at Big Ten Media Days. “At the end of the day, everybody got their own path. Julian will tell you that too. I know it's probably not what he wanted, but at the end of the day, that's what God called his path to be. And he has probably learned more. I feel like anything in life that you want or that you have a goal of, if you're just handed it, then you won't be appreciative of it. You gotta go through things. So Julian definitely has been through it, like with injuries and different things sitting behind Chris (Olave), but he's learned so much and this is the most motivated and the most mature I've ever seen Julian in my life.
“Y’all haven’t really seen the real Julian yet just because he’s been injured and whatnot. So it’s exciting to see him just work so hard and become a better person on top of that.”
Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline has also continued to express confidence that big things are still to come for Fleming as a Buckeye.
“He's just a big, strong, fast athlete that's just really evolving into a receiver. And he's done a great job with that,” Hartline said in May. “I think that there's always things we're going to keep enhancing, and he knows where we need to enhance and get better. I think he's taking all the necessary steps and I'm really pleased with where he's at.”
“This is the most motivated and the most mature I've ever seen Julian in my life.”– C.J. Stroud on Julian Fleming
While his five-star recruiting pedigree created expectations that Fleming would be an immediate impact player at Ohio State, Fleming knew when he arrived in Columbus that it would take him some time to develop into the receiver he has the potential to be. Fleming played in a Wing-T offense in high school, so he’s had a lot to learn about running routes and playing in a spread offense.
The repeated injury setbacks he’s suffered were less foreseen, though he had been dealing with the shoulder issue that plagued him during his freshman year since high school. But he showed optimism this spring that he will succeed as an Ohio State wide receiver if he continues to stay the course.
“I definitely feel I've just gradually made progressions and progressions every year,” Fleming said. “I feel like right now, my route running’s at its best. I feel good, I feel fast, I feel strong. So I'm just gonna continue my routine right now and hopefully sky's the limit.
“The route I took might have been different than some others, and it definitely might not have been the best route for me, but I made it here and I'm still here. So that's what I'm really happy to see. Just being able to overcome those obstacles has made me so much more confident in myself and what I can do.”