Fleming fresh off huge game against Delaware State
For the second straight week, the Southern University defense is faced with the task of slowing an opposing quarterback fresh off a monster performance.
This time, it’s Florida A&M sophomore Damien Fleming, who torched Delaware State for a career-high 399 yards and three touchdowns last week, completing 30 of 37 pass attempts on his way to earning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Fleming did not throw an interception. He completed 81 percent of his passes.
“It wasn’t just me. It was the entire offense, we were able to execute,” Fleming said after Wednesday’s practice. “We were efficient, the O-line was giving me time to see down the field and make reads and the receivers were doing a good job of getting open.”
Fleming will look to follow up last week’s performance with another huge game when Florida A&M (2-2) meets Southern (1-2) inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the NBC Sports Network.
After all, it was against Southern that Fleming had his breakout last season, earning his first career win and leading the Rattlers to a 38-33 come-from-behind victory in a game in which he completed 6 of 8 passes for 76 yards and led three scoring drives.
Fleming has been the Rattlers’ starting quarterback ever since.
“At that moment, we were down, and the coaches felt like they had to make a change,” Fleming explained, noting FAMU trailed 33-17 when he entered the game. “They were comfortable enough to throw me in the game, so I just wanted to play well so the coaches could see that I appreciate them believing in me to put me in the game in a situation like that.”
The Jaguars’ second half-collapse is something Southern interim head coach Dawson Odums remembers all too well.
“He really threw the ball well,” Odums said of Fleming. “He’s a tremendous talent. They list him as a dual threat, and he’s all of that. He throws the ball well and runs good, so it will be a tough challenge for us.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, Fleming leads the MEAC in passing yards, completing 77 of 116 attempts for 835 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions. He’s averaging 208.6 yards per game.
But the young quarterback is just scratching the surface of his potential, second-year FAMU quarterbacks coach Quinn Gray said.
“Last week was just a brief synopsis of the things to come from the young man, because he’s so intelligent, he’s such a student of the game and he asks questions all the time when he needs to know something about a defense,” said Gray, who was a backup quarterback for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars from 2002-07.
Gray, who left FAMU as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns before moving on to the NFL, now finds himself holding Fleming to a standard similar to that of his own.
“We’re to the point where I expect those things from him, the way he played last week,” Gray said. “I mean ... when he doesn’t throw for 250 yards, it’s a thing where we ask ‘What can we do to get better?’ ”
Everything he’s done up to this point in his career, however, hasn’t come easy. Fleming originally committed to Vanderbilt but lost his spot after a coaching change at the school. He then flirted with West Virginia before ultimately signing with FAMU.
“I was committed to Vanderbilt, and it was kind of a situation where it was either Vanderbilt or West Virginia,” Fleming said. “The Vanderbilt coaching staff got fired, and the new coaches told me they were going in another direction. Then, a couple weeks before signing day, West Virginia’s quarterback coach and recruiting coordinator were fired.”
Fleming’s relationship with Gray and several prep teammates steered him to FAMU — a decision that, when it’s over, could be one of the best he’s ever made.
“I got to know him as a young man during that time and as a football player,” Gray said. “The relationship only grew because he asked me about FAMU during the recruiting process. I just told him the opportunities are there for him to get to the NFL because ... I’m a prime example.”