COLUMBUS â€” Julian Fleming showed up at Ohio State last offseason with high expectations.
Justifiably so. But maybe those expectations were too high for the former No. 1 receiver prospect in the country. Fleming had a first offseason littered with challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a canceled spring period and rare in-person meetings. That didn’t help in his first offseason with the program. Enrolling early didn’t help him.
He also struggled with a nagging shoulder injury that caused him trouble throughout his freshman campaign. But now fresh off shoulder surgery, a complete offseason regimen and with the weight of being a five-star freshman off his back, Fleming can focus on playing football.
And the returns are already proving to be promising for the sophomore playmaker.
“He’s another guy that’s had an unbelievable offseason,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “He’s strong, he’s healthy again, really, for the first time. He was dealing with that shoulder and it kept popping in and out last year. And he got that fixed. He looks great. He’s had a really great attitude, been working really hard. So excited to see what he looks like this year.”
Fleming was electric with the ball in his hands in high school. He broke major Pennsylvania high school receiving records and won multiple state championships. It’s easy to see why he was rated the top wide receiver in his class by every major recruiting service.
But that was high school. Ohio State is different. Fleming was the headliner of the 2020 wide receiver haul for the Buckeyes, who brought in four receivers in that class. One of them, Mookie Cooper, has since transferred out of the program. Another, Gee Scott Jr., made the move to tight end. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the other member of that receiving class, and he is expected to have a breakout sophomore season. The emergence of Smith-Njigba this offseason may take some of the pressure off Fleming, who can now just focus on being healthy and playing football.
He certainly has the capability to break out.
â€œHis size and speed combination are like Iâ€™ve probably never seen in college football,” Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said of Fleming in the spring. “The development heâ€™s had from last camp, if you will â€” whatever you want to call that â€” through the season to develop but also learn football and grow was really awesome. â€¦ Iâ€™m so excited for Julian. I think heâ€™s a rock star as an individual, and I look forward to getting him back on a full-time regiment.â€
His injury didn’t entirely hold him back last season. Fleming still caught seven passes for 74 yards in four games. But after missing some time in the spring due to the injury, Fleming is now back and at his healthiest since arriving at Ohio State, ready for more production than in his first year.
And he’s working his way into the top half of the loaded Buckeyes wide receiver depth chart.
“I know he’s not hanging back in terms of the way he’s working right now,” Day said. “I mean, he’s busting his tail to play really, really well this year. And we’re expecting him to do that. So it’ll be fun to see how this season plays out for him.”
With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson back for another season, Fleming won’t need to be the headliner of the wide receiver room this fall. And with Smith0-Njigba’s expected emergence, Fleming has a chance to put the five-star status and expectations behind him.
Now healthy, Julian Fleming can just play football.
“I think he’s kind of moved on from all that,” Day said. “And now it’s just focused on on playing the season.”