You’d be forgiven for thinking one story Ryan Day told at an NIL fundraising event last week sounded a bit far-fetched.
Peeling back the curtain on preseason camp in the leadup to the 2022 football season, Day described a particularly gutsy feat from a Buckeye wideout on the practice field. Julian Fleming, who’s dealt with an injured shoulder since his high school career, had his shoulder pop out of its socket during practice. Then he popped it back into place and scored two touchdowns in the scrimmage that followed.
Asked about the incident himself last week, Fleming only needed three words to confirm its validity.
“Yeah, that's true,” he said during a post-practice interview session.
Fleming’s teammate and Buckeye wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. said the initial injury happened during a red zone drill before the scrimmage even began. One might think Fleming, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason ahead of the 2021 campaign, would have sat out thereafter to make sure no further damage was done.
But Harrison wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Fleming, who is looking to lock down a full-time starting job for the first time in his career this season, persist through the pain and finish with a standout performance.
“It happened early on in practice in a red zone period, and then we had the scrimmage afterwards. And he kind of fought through it, which he always does, and he had a big scrimmage, for sure,” Harrison said. “That's just the kind of player he is though.”
Fleming is far from thrilled to be dealing with any sort of injury this close to the start of the season. The five-star recruit has his best opportunity yet to see significant snaps and possibly a starring role in the Buckeye offense in 2022. But as long as Fleming can play through it, he will try to.
Fleming said finding the end zone on two occasions was just another encouraging sign when it comes to how his junior year could go.
“Obviously, it stinks. It's not fun, but it's just part of the game and stuff happens. Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches,” Fleming said. “So just having that happen and being able to come back in right away and continue to play on it, it was a little bit of a confidence boost. But obviously we're gonna take some precautionary measures and just making sure everything is stable in that area.
“It definitely boosted my confidence a lot. Obviously it's a painful thing, but sometimes pain is just in your mind and sometimes you got to constantly work through just little bumps and tweaks. And painful stuff and being injured is very different. So the way I took it, it was just another little punch along the way. And I just had to do everything I could to help my team.”
After two seasons that underwhelmed when compared with the sky-high expectations he had entering his college football career, Fleming’s had time to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to offseason preparation.
Fleming said he’s made plenty of changes ahead of year three, and that’s resulted in him being named an Iron Buckeye by Mickey Marotti and receiving praise from Ryan Day, who said he’s had his best offseason yet.
IRON. BUCKEYES. pic.twitter.com/U0gs4AtDYd— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) August 4, 2022
“Definitely right after the season, I just had to focus a lot on me and a lot of the stuff that I had been through and really just realized I have to continue to build on that and not dwell on it,” Fleming said. “I just had to constantly build and build and build, and now I feel like I'm starting to fit into that football player that I'm really, really, really thriving to become.”
Fleming has long been pegged as a potential longtime NFL wideout, and two of his teammates – Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave – became first-round draft picks just a few months ago. With just 19 catches for 160 yards through his first two years, Fleming hasn’t shown off surefire NFL talent on the field just yet. But he said he’s looking to the next level for ways to fine-comb his game before the season.
“Just taking everything a lot more seriously, from route technique to releases to pre-route mindsets and just having a plan every single play,” Fleming said. “We actually just watched a video today on Davante Adams, the best in the NFL, and his pre-snap mindset and all the stuff that he has planned. So I feel like I'm constantly building on that. And I'm starting to anticipate instead of react in game situations.”
Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline lauded the work Fleming has put in on and off the field this offsesaon, and also said he hopes the Pennsylvania native doesn’t get caught up in the notion he should be further along than he is right now. Hartline stressed that every player has their own timeline, and Fleming appears to be trending toward a breakout season in his own right.
“It was awesome. I mean, I think his growth off the field paralleled his growth on the field, and that's critical. Everything we just talked about, from taking care of your body to rest to the mental development of the game – there's so much involved,” Hartline said. “I think to say Curtis Samuel went in a three-year timespan and Terry McLaurin went in five, well Curtis is better because he went in three, that's not the case. That's never the case.
“Everyone's on their own path. I just love the growth he's had. And I think that everyone's gonna chase a goal at different paths, but at the end of the day, the end goal is the most important thing, right? So it's been awesome. I really enjoyed it, and I can't wait to continue to see the growth of it.”
Fleming’s heard a lot about what he’s been expected to do over the past several years, and he’s tuning that noise out as much as possible this season. Fleming said it’s his increased effort in the gym and on the practice field that will get him over the hump, and he’s ready to see it translate to the field starting this weekend.
“I like to cut out expectations, to be honest with you,” Fleming said. “I really dwelled on expectation for the past two years, and sometimes your expectations, I don't want to say get killed, but sometimes your work ethic doesn't meet your expectations. And I feel like mine didn't at that time. So right now, I feel like my work ethic is matching my expectations. So that's why I'm really excited.”