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Family is Fleming’s motivation

Arkansas State receiver R.J. Fleming breaks off a run in the Red Wolves’ 33-28 win against Memphis Sept. 8. Fleming, a Trinity Episcopal Day School alumnus, is preparing with the rest of his team for the GoDaddy.com Bowl. (Photo courtesy of Arkansas State University)

NATCHEZ — Last season, R.J. Fleming had his bowl experience cut short by family tragedy, and this year the junior wide receiver plans to make his second chance count.

“It’s kind of crazy, because it is like a replay of last year,” Fleming said. “We had a great year, we lose our head coach and we are going to the same bowl game as last year. It’s not a secret what I experienced last year, and this year I am doing what I planned on doing last year.”

The Arkansas State athlete lost both of his parents during bowl preparation last season, and he said his family is a big motivator for this year’s game.

“It’s going to be a big thing,” he said. “I have a lot of family that’s going to come and make it a big deal. I am really excited.”

Fleming said his parents would be on his mind as he prepares for the game.

“Part of me wants to come and enjoy every moment with my teammates, but I do want to go down and be more focused and more intense,” Fleming said. “I want to make this something that I can contribute to the memory of my mom and dad. I want to prepare like it’s one of the biggest games of my life, and actually it is.”

Arkansas State lost to Northern Illinois in last year’s GoDaddy.com Bowl, and this year the Red Wolves will face No. 25 Kent State without the presence of head coach Gus Malzahn, who will not coach the bowl game after accepting the head coaching position at Auburn University.

“Arkansas State has never won a bowl game, and all year long that’s been our biggest goal,” Fleming said. “We lost our head coach, but we haven’t lost each other. We’re going to play to win and hope to finish in the top 25.”

The Red Wolves finished the regular season 9-3 after starting the season 2-3, and Fleming said the team is still getting better.

“After the first three games it looked like we may be in for a long season,” he said. “But (the players) and Coach Malzahn adjusted, and they realized what they had to work with, and we started getting on a roll. Ever since then, we’ve been getting better every week. Even during bowl preparation, we are getting better every day.”

Last season Hugh Freeze coached the Red Wolves to a 10-2 regular season but left for Ole Miss before the bowl game. The Red Wolves are going through the same thing this year, but Fleming said the team is adapting well to interim coach John Thompson.

“I really don’t feel that we’ve skipped a beat,” Fleming said. “For the most part, I feel like we are closer as a team. We’ve had different things happen, but that’s what has brought us closer together.

“I guess I’m just kind of numb to (coaching changes) now. This will be the third head coach I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Fleming caught nine passes for 113 yards this season, and although he had hoped for more touches, he was pleased with what he did with his time.

“I really pride myself on taking advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “Whether I get one or 100 touches, I will give it 300 percent. Every opportunity I did get, I made the most of it, and I thank God for every opportunity I do receive.”

Fleming and the Red Wolves will face Kent State at 8 p.m. Jan. 6, in Mobile, Ala.