Running back focuses on family for inspirationWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Family has always been a strong presence in David Fluellen Jr.’s life.
In fact, it was a family member who helped ignite the University of Toledo junior running back’s desire to use football as a conduit to better himself.
As a kid, Fluellen watched his brother Jhamal, who is seven years his senior, earn First Team All-State honors at Lockport High School in New York.
When Fluellen was given his own chance to roam Lockport’s backfield, Jhamal was garnering All-Colonial Athletic Association and All-American accolades at the University of Maine.
“It was definitely an influence for me, to see how my brother was playing and how he could earn a Division I scholarship,” Fluellen said. “I knew that was something I wanted to do to help my family out. I knew that was something my parents would be proud of.”
Unsurprisingly, Fluellen turned to his family for guidance last season when he was struggling to cope with receiving limited touches behind senior running backs Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams.
“In all honesty, it was a little bit frustrating, but I knew I had to wait my turn,” Fluellen explained. “I would talk to my parents and my dad always told me to keep my head on straight.”
David Sr. reminded his son that Barry Sanders, arguably the greatest running back in history, had to wait for his chance behind fellow Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas when the pair played together at Oklahoma State in the ’80s.
“After that, I just tried to go out there and take advantage of every opportunity,” Fluellen said. “Now that it’s my turn, I’m taking every rep like it’s my last.”
Fluellen has indeed stepped into the limelight this season and his numbers are indicative of the reckless abandon that stems from his father’s advice.
Through five games Fluellen has rung up 500 yards and six touchdowns on 90 carries (5.6 yards per carry). He ranks fourth in the Mid-American Conference with an average of 100 rushing yards per game, fifth with 7.2 points per game and seventh with 123 all purpose yards per game.
And it would seem Fluellen is only just hitting his stride.
On Sept. 29 at Western Michigan he turned in his best performance to date, ripping off a career-high 213 yards rushing on 21 carries (10.1 yards per carry) for three touchdowns. The output earned Fluellen the MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week honors and National Performer of the Week Honorable Mention.
Of course, Fluellen gave credit to his offensive line, but he said watching film of Thomas’ 216-yard rushing performance against the Broncos last season was instrumental as well.
“I saw how patient he was, letting the offensive line develop holes,” Fluellen said. “I thought that a huge part of my success [last Saturday] was being more patient and letting the offensive line get off the block to help me get to the second level where the linebackers are.”
Ironically, the All-MAC tailback whom Fluellen studied tape of before the Western Michigan game was the same teammate who used to encourage him to hit the film room in order to gain a competitive edge.
“Adonis told me it wasn’t all about physical ability,” Fluellen said. “Everyone in Division I football has physical ability, that’s why they got a scholarship. You have to have the mental aspect and become a student of the game to take your game that much further.”
Fluellen got a chance to put that lesson in action last fall when Thomas went down with a broken arm in a 33-30 loss to Syracuse. Starting two of three games in Thomas’ absence, Fluellen compiled 208 yards on 32 rushes for an outstanding 6.5 yards per carry.
He attributes the success he is having this year as UT’s primary ball carrier, in part, to the experience he gained while starting last season.
“To know that I could go out there and contribute was a huge confidence builder for this year,” Fluellen said. “So there wasn’t any pressure coming into this season.
“Now what I try to do is take the knowledge of the game Adonis and Morgan Williams passed on to me, use it, and install it in the younger guys.”
After last weekend, the Rockets’ high-powered offense may need that edge more than ever.
Adding to an extensive list of injured Toledo defensive players, All-MAC performer T.J. Fatinikun was lost for the season to a torn Achilles tendon and fellow defensive end Christian Smith is out indefinitely after suffering his own lower leg injury.
For some, the plethora of injuries might be cause for concern.
Fluellen, however, has been enlightened by a particular bit of fatherly wisdom — the next player on the depth chart might just need the opportunity to shine.
“We have to have faith that the next guy who steps up at that position can make the plays,” Fluellen said. “It’s like the same thing that happened with Adonis and I. The next guy just has to step up.”