Fourth highest collegiate rusher in the nation comes home
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
The sun shone down like a spotlight Saturday on David Fluellen and college football's star running back sparkled in it.
Lockport High School's greatest rusher of all time (4,274 yards) did his best to watch the Lions' Homecoming football contest against visiting Kenmore West at Max D. Lederer Field, but the Toledo University senior and the nation's second leading rusher garnered as much attention from fans and the media as the game itself.
“It feels great to be here. Great weather today — exactly like I remember it was when I was in high school playing here,” said Fluellen, now a senior at Toledo, where his 846 yards heading into last weekend's bye made him the second best college running back in the entire country.
“It was tremendous to see him,” said LHS head coach Greg Bronson. “It's a real positive reflection on his connection to this community that on his week off — he could have been doing something else — that he came back here for our Homecoming game. I think that speaks well to his connection to the community and his character and his maturity as a young man.”
Even after the bye weekend, Fluellen, a 2010 graduate of LHS, remains fourth in the NCAA in rushing — not far behind Washington's Bishop Sankey (899 yards), Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews (882) and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (870).
It's surreal at times admits Fluellen, who together with his brother, Jhamal, completely rewrote the Lions record books under head coaches Bronson and Mike Finn.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to set in,” said Fluellen, a criminal justice major at Toledo. “Everything you wanted when you were little is happening right now and it's very humbling. I'm just trying to handle it and be humble with it.”
Finn said he's proud to be the one who gave David a shot at varsity football.
“I remember when David was a freshman here, we brought him up to varsity and I was the head coach,” Finn said. “The first couple of games he was a little tentative, but he ended up having a great freshman year and I think that paved the way for him to be successful in his sophomore year and then junior and senior years.
“We're really proud of him,” Finn said. “He's going to graduate this December — in three-and-a-half years. He certainly distinguished himself on the athletic field and in the classroom.”
Fluellen, 21, the son of David Fluellen Sr. and Arletha Fluellen, said he'll always cherish his time in Lockport and as a member of the Lions' football program.
“My biggest memory is my senior year playing at Orchard Park. They were the defending state champions and we took them to triple overtime,” Fluellen said. “That was out first game and a chance to measure how our team was going to do for the season. We took them that far and I knew that I had a good group of teammates that would do whatever it takes.
“All my coaches here taught me a lot. Just to be home today and seeing coach Bronson and all my coaches brings a lot of those memories back,” he said.
After a somewhat slow start with the Rockets, the 6-foot, 215 pound Fluellen has relied on patience to help guide him to breakout seasons in each of the past two seasons.
As a freshman, he gained 224 yards and scored one TD on 38 carries, while missing four games due to a knee injury. In 2011, he finished third on team with 493 yards rushing and started three games.
“My first time out on the field was a great experience,” Fluellen said. “We were playing Arizona and they were top 25 ranked at the time. They beat us bad and I only got a couple plays because I had two upperclassmen ahead of me, but I loved being out on the field. The crowd was amazing. When I finally got my chance my junior year, I just took off with it and never look back.”
Last season, Fluellen earned First Team All-MAC honors and was a prestigious Doak Walker Award finalist, finishing eighth in nation with 124.8 yards per game. His 1,498 rushing yards ranks fifth all-time at Toledo. He had 200-plus yards in three games, including a career-best 228 yards against the University at Buffalo.
This year, he's averaging 6.6 yards per carry with nine touchdowns and also has 22 receptions for 182 yards. In his last game against Central Michigan (Oct. 5), Fluellen ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. Among Toledo's upcoming contests is a home game against UB on Nov. 12. The Rockets host Navy at noon this Saturday in their next contest.
The Flu is spreading and pro scouts are catching it. Two NFL teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders — are among those that have contacted Bronson and expressed interest in Fluellen.
“They asked me some general questions about him — his accomplishments, community involvement. Pretty much it was a basic background check to see how he did in high school,” Bronson said.
Former Lions head coach Bob Casler, an assistant under both Finn and Bronson, said Fluellen is someone youngsters in this community can look up to.
“It's a great feeling to see a local kid do well. He really has developed over the years he's been at Toledo and I just wish him all the best,” Casler said. “He's a great representative of our community, he's a great representative of Toledo and God willing, he's going to be in the pros next year.”
Fluellen said he stays in touch with Jhamal, the older brother whose LHS rushing records he went on to break. Jhamal was a running back at Syracuse and Maine and today works as a counselor with troubled youths in Massachusetts.
His advice to everyone back home is stay positive.
“Keep your dreams alive because you get what you put in,” Fluellen said. “If you work hard and believe in yourself, it will happen.”