The obligatory part of writing about Ohio State’s junior wide receiver Julian Fleming is that you must mention that he was the No. 1 receiver in the 2020 recruiting class and the No. 1 overall recruit in ESPN’s own rankings.
The law requires that it must also be stated that Fleming has dealt with injuries off and on in his career, which is part of the reason he hasn’t yet blown up on the national scene like Buckeye receivers of the past.
Expectations like that can be a burden, especially on a stage as bright as Ohio State’s.
Fleming has 19 catches in his two-year career to this point — considerably more than many other very talented former Buckeye receivers, but because he has never been The Man in either of his first two years, some continue to ask what seems to be the problem, or they speculate that he is a transfer candidate, or both.
Fleming himself, however, believes he’s exactly where he needs to be.
“Everybody’s path is a lot different,” Fleming said this month. “I came from a smaller school and I wasn’t as well developed. Being at Ohio State, around the best guys in the country — no questions about it, the best guys in the country. So from a coaching standpoint, to a receiver standpoint, it’s just constantly getting better and pushing each other. And that’s why I stayed here. There’s just no other place I’d rather be.”
No. 2-ranked Ohio State is just three days away from opening the season against fifth-ranked Notre Dame, and Fleming is now looking at a full-time role with the Buckeyes in an offense that makes receivers look very, very good. It’s the kind of opportunity that once again brings lofty expectations with it.
What are Fleming’s expectations for himself this year?
“I don’t know. I like to cut out expectations, to be honest with you,” he answered. “I really dwelled on expectation for the past two years, and sometimes your expectations, I don’t want to say get killed, but sometimes your work ethic doesn’t meet your expectations. And I feel like mine didn’t at that time. So right now, I feel like my work ethic is matching my expectations. So that’s why I’m really excited.”
Fleming has put in the work on and off the field and his maturity has been directly responsible for every other improvement he has made this offseason.
His teammates have seen it and his position coach Brian Hartline has seen it as well.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” Hartline said. “I think his growth off the field paralleled his growth on the field, and that’s critical. Everything we just talked about, from taking care of your body, to rest, the mental development of the game. There’s so much involved.”
Julian Fleming may not saddle himself with expectations any longer, but those around him haven’t changed their expectations. They know that everybody’s path is different and timing is a unique thing to each individual.
“I think that to say ‘Curtis Samuel went in a three-year timespan and Terry McLaurin went in five, well Curtis is better because he went in three.’ That’s not the case,” Hartline said. “That’s never the case. Everyone’s on their own path. I just love the growth he’s had.”