COLUMBUS – Julian Fleming’s first scholarship offer came from Michigan as a freshman in high school.
Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, the conventional wisdom was that Fleming, rated the No. 1 wide receiver nationally in the 2020 recruiting class, would lean toward Penn State.
But Fleming wanted something different. That’s the short version of how he ended up at Ohio State, where he is expected to be a contributor in the Buckeyes’ passing game immediately in the fall.
The 6-2, 200-pound wideout with 4.45 speed drew this assessment from Ohio State coach Ryan Day after the Buckeyes’ first day of spring practice: “You can see the talent of Julian and just his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and make plays down the field.”
Fleming, a 5-star recruit, played for undefeated state champion teams his last three seasons at Southern Columbia Area High School in Catawissa, Pa., a town of 1,500 people around 60 miles from Scranton in eastern Pennsylvania.
He caught 72 passes for 1,572 yards and 23 touchdowns his senior season and is the Pennsylvania career leader in touchdown catches (77) and yards (5,514) playing in a Wing-T offense, not the most pass friendly formation. He was Pennsylvania’s Mr. Football the last two years and also was a state champion in the 100-meter dash.
Like 13 other OSU recruits in the 2020 class, he chose to enroll early and get started on his college career.
So, what was the reaction closer to home when Fleming considered offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Penn State before he leaned, then committed to Ohio State? How negative was it?
“It happened. It was rough for a time but I’m here,” Fleming said during a pre-spring practice interview. So far, Fleming is the face of what looks like an exceptional group of receivers in Ohio State’s incoming freshman class.
In addition to Fleming, the Buckyes signed Jaxon Smith-Njigbo, rated the No. 5 receiver nationally, Gee Scott Jr., rated the No. 10 receiver in the country, and Mookie Cooper, ranked No. 16 overall even though he didn’t play his senior season because of an eligibility issue after he transferred.
Three of Ohio State’s top receivers – K.J. Hills, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack – were seniors last season.
Veterans like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are expected to be the leading receivers this season, but one or more of the freshman could work their way into the top six receivers and get significant playing time.
“There’s a ton of talent. I mean, you saw what everybody can do in high school, so hopefully it translates over well into college. Expectations are definitely high,” Fleming said about the four freshmen receivers.
“It’s really exciting. You know there’s a lot of expectations with this class, especcially at receiver. So I’m hoping we could all live up to them. At the same time, it’s going to be a lot of work we’ll put in to get there.”
He knows there is a world of difference between high school and college football. That has become clear even in the short time he has been at Ohio State.
“You come to college and you think you’re the cream of the crop, the best one. You come to one of the top colleges in the country, you’re going to get put in your place real quick,” Fleming said. “All the stars are gone, all the rankings are gone, everything like that. It’s starting from scratch, it’s kind of build yourself up. You’ve got to earn everything.”