MOBILE, Ala. — Dave Fluellen’s brilliant college career for the University of Toledo ended with a fizzle.
The Lockport High School graduate missed most of the last five games of the season with a stress fracture in his ankle.
The good news is the running back’s pro career is starting off on the right foot. He recovered well enough over the past three months to get placed on the North team roster for the Senior Bowl.
“I wish the senior year would have went better but things happen,” Fluellen said. “I thought it was an Achilles injury. It turned out to be a stress fracture. There was no surgery needed. Everything was still structurally in place. It was just a lot of rehab. I’m good to go. It was perfect timing for this week.”
Even with a shortened senior year, Fluellen rushed for 3,336 yards at Toledo, fourth in school history.
Early projections rank him as a late-round pick in the NFL Draft, and he appears likely to become the latest Western New Yorker to earn a spot in the NFL.
At the end of the 2013 season, there were seven WNY products on NFL teams. They were: New England’s Rob Gronkowski (Williamsville), Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams (Riverside) and Steven Means (Grover Cleveland), Green Bay’s James Starks (Niagara Falls) and J.C. Tretter (Albion), Baltimore’s Corey Graham (Turner-Carroll) and Tennessee’s Brett Kern (Grand Island).
Fluellen’s size and versatility give him a good chance to make an NFL roster.
He’s 5-foot-11, 226 pounds. As a junior, he rushed for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 124 yards-per-game average ranked eighth in the nation. As a senior, he led the nation in yards per carry (6.7). Through seven games of the season, he ranked third in the nation in rushing with 1,006 yards. He has four career 200-yard games, including a 228-yarder against the University at Buffalo in 2012.
Fluellen has good hands, too. He caught 80 passes in his career. Against nationally ranked Missouri this year, he had 10 catches for 100 yards and rushed for another 111 yards. He’s also known as a pretty good pass blocker. In Tuesday’s practice, he got bowled over in a pass-blocking drill against Iowa linebacker Chris Kirksey. But Fluellen came back and locked him up on the next one-on-one confrontation.
So Fluellen has the ability to be an every-down back or a situational passing-downs contributor.
“One thing I notice about David is his knack for making plays,” said Gerald Brown, running backs coach for the Atlanta Falcons and the North team this week. “He’s had some plays on the field this week where it didn’t look like much was there, and he found a way to find green grass and make a run. He’s a good-sized kid, he works hard, and he’s been good in the classroom the days we’ve had him.”
Fluellen has a slashing running style (think a younger, less developed Fred Jackson), and he’s using a bit different approach this week. While rehabilitating in Scottsdale, Ariz., physical therapists recommended a change in stride.
“They corrected my running form because that’s where a lot of injuries happen,” Fluellen said. “I was running on my toes too much. When I run on my toes, it leaves my ankles more vulnerable to injury. I’m running a little more flat-footed, with more support.”
Good running instincts run in his family. His father, David Sr., was a first-team running back on the 1982 All-Western New York team for Medina. His brother, Jhamal, was first-team All-WNY for Lockport in 2003, and played in college at both Syracuse and Maine.
The younger David broke all of Jhamal’s Lockport records while rushing for 4,274 yards in his prep career.
“I haven’t seen films of my dad but he’s trying to get films to show me,” Fluellen said.
The family will be watching the Senior Bowl at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“This is a good opportunity to turn heads and improve my draft stock,” Fluellen said. “It only takes one team to fall in love with you. I’m healthy now I’m ready to take the next step forward in my career.”