Fleming ready to step up as leader at Arkansas State this fallPublished 12:01am Monday, June 18, 2012
NATCHEZ — R.J. Fleming has paid his dues in his first two seasons with the Arkansas State University football team, and now he is ready to become a star.
“I had a chance to sit down and talk with our offensive coordinator (Rhett Lashlee),” Fleming said. “I said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to be cocky in any way, but I really feel like I served my time as role player, and I’m ready to be the man.’
“He said, ‘R.J., I wish everybody on the team would have come to me and told me that.’ Now it’s up to me to hold those words to heart.”
The former Trinity Episcopal star will get his chance to live up to those words this season, as he comes into the year as one of the Red Wolves’ starting wide receivers.
“It’s a lot different from last year, because everybody is looking at me as a leader,” Fleming said. “I am the go-to-guy. I am doing everything I can to contribute for my teammates. I am doing everything I can for my team.”
Fleming said a lot of good came out of waiting his turn, he said.
“I learned to be extremely patient and watch the guys in front of me,” Fleming said. “I kept a notebook every day and really learned to play wide receiver efficiently. I learned about running routes, setting up the defense and reading the defense. I learned so much more. I feel like God was planning my life, and I waited, and now it’s time to apply what I’ve learned.
Fleming played a supporting role in Arkansas State’s 10-2 regular season in 2011 that saw the Red Wolves win the Sun Belt Conference and qualify to play in a bowl game. Family tragedy struck during the Red Wolves’ bowl preparation, and Fleming was unable to play in the bowl game. But Fleming said the death of his parents, Frederick and Eyevette Fleming, in January has taught him to appreciate what his family taught him growing up.
“I think for me and my little brother, (Trey), if they wouldn’t have taught us the things we know and pushed us toward Christ, me and my little brother would not have the peace we have,” Fleming said. “We are both two motivated human beings. It’s like we have two extra angels on our side, and I carry them in my heart, and (Trey) does the same for me. I’m just out here to make myself be what they want me to be.”
Fleming said he has become a key figure in Trey’s life.
“Honestly, the way my little brother looks at me, I feel like I came up short,” he said. “He looks at me like I am absolute king. And for me to not have my break-out season yet in football, it pushes me every day.
“I talked to him about everything. You name it, we’ve talked about it, especially the main priorities of life. We’ve bonded so much closer.”
Another change in Fleming’s life came in December when Gus Malzahn took over as the head coach of the Red Wolves.
“He’s a business man,” Fleming said. “Obviously he and Coach (Hugh) Freeze are two different people. Coach Freeze will sit you down and want to know about your day to day. Coach Malzahn is more, ‘What can you do for me on this field? You are here to play ball and make sure you give 110 percent on field.’
“Honestly it’s a lot different. It’s like in practice if you do something amazing that’s expected. There are very few pats on the back. You are a Division 1 football player. In a sense it obviously pushes you. There’s no time to be complacent.”
Fleming said he is ready to be a part of Malzahn’s high-powered offense.
“Man I’m extremely excited. I’ve talked to the offensive coaches numerous times, and they have great things planned.”
Fleming said he believes his team is ready to build on what they started last season.
“I don’t want to sit here and (be) cocky, but I really feel like big things are going to happen at Arkansas State from here on out,” he said.
That success will start with a big opening game in Eugene, Ore., on Sept. 1.
“We start full out training towards Oregon in August,” he said. “Fall camp is around the corner. It was just announced it would be on ESPN. This is nationwide on ESPN. It’s no joke, and I’m extremely excited. The biggest difference is everybody on the team is hungry and looking forward to this opportunity.”
Fleming said he suffered a PCL injury during spring drills and missed the spring game, but he is close to 100 percent now and working toward a full recovery in the next month.
Fleming said once he is physically ready he knows he will be a complete player to perform big for the Red Wolves this season.
“I am looking forward to using my mental ability and confidence,” he said. “I’ve finally reached the point to where nobody needs to tell me who I am anymore. I figure it out and see who I am. I have the missing pieces. The coaches always told me along the way I have crazy talent. I know God heard them, but I wasn’t really believing in myself. Now I see it for myself, and I believe and know my mom and dad are on my side. Everything finally clicked together and the sky’s limit.”