David Fluellen emerged from the locker room Saturday still wearing full armor along with two rubber bracelets. One over his left wrist confirmed he made a sound decision to play college football at Toledo. Another over his right wrist was a shout out to the Bills, his way of taking Buffalo with him.
Fluellen knew he was home when he stepped off the bus and walking into UB Stadium with dark clouds above, high winds and persistent rain. It’s what people in other parts of the country deem a miserable day. For a running back from our region, it spelled an afternoon in October that was perfect for football.
As you might expect, the Lockport native left his long sleeves in his locker and embraced the elements. He also rushed for 228 yards on 35 carries, both career highs, and two touchdowns in a 25-20 victory over UB.
“It was a very special moment out there,’’ Fluellen said. “It was a moment where everything was clicking and exactly what I pictured my homecoming to be. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m happy at Toledo right now. I made a great decision.”
UB certainly wished Fluellen was somewhere else, anywhere else. He gashed the Bulls for 144 yards on three possessions in the third quarter alone. He covered all 86 yards on four carries – four carries – with runs of 17 yards, 49 yards and 19 before plunging in from the 1 and a 19-14 lead.
On the previous series, he carried Toledo for its final 59 yards with gains of 21, 21 and 9 before slicing through the middle from the 8. He was unstoppable. He gained 178 yards in the second half. He passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the first half. It felt like he gained that many in one game against UB.
“I loved every second of it," he said. “It felt good to be back, playing in front of my hometown friends and family. It was a great homecoming."
Fluellen gathered 65 tickets for friends and family who seemingly made up half of the crowd Saturday. They watched him run wild at Lockport High, so his performance Saturday was nothing new. He said it felt like a high school game with the weather and emphasis on running. In the third quarter, he made UB look like high school kids.
And that’s a problem.
Too often, UB playing at home feels like a high school game – only with fewer spectators. Paid attendance was 10,658, which means roughly 10,200 people bought tickets to the game and elected to stay home. There were a few hundred people in the stands, counting the marching band. That’s not a joke.
Fluellen said all the right things, about UB playing hard – they did – and telling anyone willing to listen how much he loves Buffalo. It doesn’t mean Buffalo is an ideal place to play Division I football. Fluellen figured he was better off sitting on the bench at Toledo for two years and getting his chance as a junior.
It was tough to argue with Toledo coach Matt Campbell, who insisted Fluellen was one of the premier backs in the country. He has rushed for 100 yards in five straight games, averaging 178.8 yards rushing per game over that span. All he needed to hit the average Saturday was the second half against UB.
“I have a high standard for myself,” Fluellen said. “I always wanted to do better than what people think I can do, just to prove them wrong. I read this preseason all-MAC list. I wasn’t on the list at all – not second-team, third-team, anything. I want to prove those people wrong and show I can be one of those type [of] guys.”
Fluellen likely carried Toledo into the Top 25. The Rockets should have a spot waiting for them when the rankings come out next week, especially with Rutgers and Ohio losing Saturday. It’s what he envisioned when he selected Toledo over UB. His homecoming couldn’t have been scripted much better.
Where does it go for UB?
The Bulls have lost six straight and fell to 1-7 this season and really, honestly, they’re not as bad as they appear. Their record is just as deceiving as the Bills’ mark for opposite reasons. UB stayed within a touchdown against Connecticut and Ohio. It couldn’t disguise the loss to Northern Illinois, but there was little shame in a 20-6 defeat to Pittsburgh.
UB had Toledo scrambling after taking a 14-7 lead into the second half. A win would have been the biggest of coach Jeff Quinn’s tenure. The Bulls should have stayed in the locker room. Toledo made a few minor adjustments, which mainly called for getting more bodies against UB’s front seven, and handing the ball to Fluellen.
Twenty minutes after the game, still wearing every piece of equipment but his helmet and still smiling, Fluellen was anxious to shower and get back outside. His parents were waiting for him near the team bus. He was banking on them sending him back to Toledo in a way any Buffalo kid would appreciate. “Hopefully,” he said, “they got some Duff’s.”