He had it in his head all along that he’d attend the University at Buffalo. He’d play his college football down the road from where he burned up the grass for Lockport. Follow in the footsteps of another area high school star, James Starks, who excelled at running back for the Bulls.
The groundwork had been laid. Regular conversations took place between David Fluellen and UB coach Turner Gill. A bond developed.
“I had like a soft commitment to them,” Fluellen said this week.
Everything changed when Gill left the Bulls to take the head job at Kansas. Fluellen was unsure where he stood. In the meantime, Toledo coaches became aware of his talent while film scouting one of his teammates. The Rockets approached in a rush, eager to close a deal.
“The Toledo coaches took a visit and I committed,” Fluellen said.
For UB there’s no lamenting the loss. Running back’s the deepest position on the roster. And there’s only one football to go around. As for Fluellen, he returns home as the workhorse running back for a Toledo team that ran its winning streak to seven Saturday with an upset of No. 21 Cincinnati. The Rockets sit on the verge of what would be their first national ranking since 2001.
Fluellen, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, has amassed 953 yards and nine touchdowns and ranks 16th nationally at 119.3 yards per game. He was sprung for 161 yards against Cincinnati, continuing a rampage that has seen him average 166.6 yards over the last four games. That streak began when he singed Western Michigan for 213 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
After two season as a back-up and change-of-pace back, Fluellen’s come to the fore in an offense that has averaged 36.7 points since its season-opening, 24-17 overtime loss at Arizona.
“We really had a great feeling about David coming into this year that he had a chance to maybe show everybody just how special he was going to be with him getting the bulk of the carries and maybe having the opportunity to catch the ball out of the backfield,” said Toledo coach Matt Campbell.
“The one thing I think that we all appreciate here about David is what you see on Saturday is what you get on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He’s a young man that has a great attention to detail. He’s a young man that’s really worked hard to hone his skills and to make himself an even better player.”
Fluellen carried 97 times for 493 yards last year as the backup and injury fill-in for Adonis Thomas. To be the primary ballcarrier, the workhorse back, Fluellen knew he’d have to bulk up over the summer.
“I spent a lot of time in the weight room,” he said by phone this week. “My offensive coordinator told me I had a chance to be the guy. I needed to get ready physically for that job. I knew I was going to be taking a lot of hits, taking a lot of carries, whatever was needed to make our team successful. So me and my strength and conditioning coach went hard all summer long just trying to build like a body of armor, of muscle.”
“He really had to work hard this offseason physically to get himself to a position where he could carry the football 25, 30 times in a football game,” Campbell said. “I think that’s the one area that’s he’s really helped himself. We know those running backs, they take some hits. Really for the last three years we’ve kind of been running back by committee and now he’s kind of been the lead horse.”
The closest Fluellen has come to his old turf was last year, with a game at Syracuse. This one Saturday hits closer to home. He’s worked out with Bulls backup quarterback Joe Licata (Williamsville South). He’s played against backup strong safety Adam Redden (St. Francis) and with guard Jasen Carlson (Southwestern) in an all-star game.
“Last year we went to Syracuse and played and that was like a homecoming game being back in New York State,” Fluellen said. “But being back in my hometown area, it’s going to be fun. I have a lot of family and friends who are going to support me.”
Fluellen wears his increased status loosely. His numbers are important he says only because they’ve helped the Rockets sustain last year’s success — a 9-4 season capped by a victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl. Toledo is 15-2 since Oct. 1, 2011.
“”Every time I go out and play I think I want to do it for the seniors because this is their last chance,” Fluellen said. “So I’m just trying to go out and play my hardest for them.”
“We’re really proud of him,” Campbell said. “Boy, he’s been terrific for us the last couple of weeks and we’re really proud of his development.”