Tennessee has developed a well-deserved reputation as a farm league for the NFL. After all, close to 150 Volunteers have been drafted into The League since 1982 alone. Counting the players drafted this past weekend, there will be close to 50 players in the NFL right now.
So what does UT do when it is in dire need of defensive backs, as it will be this year? It turns to a farm league of its own: Highland Springs High School in Highland Springs, Virginia, a virtual defensive back factory that has placed five DBs at Division I or I-AA schools over the past three years alone.
The cream of the Highland Springs DB crop last year was cornerback C.J. Fleming, who ranks as No. 23 in Tennessee’s class of 2007.
Trust the eyesC.J. Fleming knew what he wanted in a university. Good academic support. Early opportunities. And coaches he could trust:
The biggest thing I am looking for is the relationship with the coaches. Eye contact, honestly and how they relate with me is key. And that includes the coach recruiting me as well as my position coach.
Tennessee assistant coach Larry Slade didn’t make eye contact with me when I was staring at him through a glass partition in a luxury box at the Bristol Motor Speedway, but then again, he wasn’t recruiting me – I was stalking him. But he apparently looks his recruits in the eye when he offers them a scholarship, and Fleming obviously trusted him because he committed to play for the Volunteers on August 22, 2006. Somebody send a memo to Chris Leak.
Fleming had multiple offers and chose Tennessee over Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, West Virginia, and a host of others (15 in total, from SEC and ACC schools) that couldn’t compete with Neyland Stadium or coach Slade’s ability to maintain eye contact:
I was a lot more comfortable there than I thought I would be. I liked Tennessee a lot. I know the stadium was big, but you don't know until you see it. The campus and the town were big as well. You can tell it is all about football there. I feel like I have a good bond with coach Slade and with coach Fulmer. After I left there I was very impressed.
Fleming was the Vols’ (11th or) 12th commitment of the year, depending on what site you’re reading. Once he committed, he called off all other visits and got down to the business of finishing his high school career well.
Quotes, notes, and numbers
As a junior for Highland Springs, Fleming had 39 tackles, seven interceptions, 12 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and three blocked kicks. His senior year, Fleming had 26 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and six interceptions, one of which he returned for an 87-yard touchdown.
Honors? Yeah. Fleming was a three-year letterman in track at Highland Springs in addition to a three-year starter and a three-year letterman in football. He was a two-time second-team All-State member by the AP and the VHSCA, which I’m guessing is the Virginia High School Coaches Association. He was also named to the All-Metro team by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in both 2005 and 2006 as well as a two-time All-Capital District and All-Central Region member.
Ratings? Um, diverse. ESPN recruiting analysts seem to be higher on Fleming than their Rivals and Scout counterparts. ESPN rates Fleming as the 14th best cornerback in the nation. Rivals says he’s the 25th, and curmudgeonly Scout says he’s only No. 84. Both Rivals and Scout award Fleming three stars, and PrepStar says simply that he’s All-Region.
Highland Springs coach Scott Burton must double as this kid’s publicist, as he is a quote-machine. To wit:
C.J. is just a confident player on the field, he’s got that swagger about him. As a cornerback, you have to have that on your side. He’s a big hitter and excellent in run support. He’s also very versatile as a cover guy and has all the physical tools to be a player at the next level. Tremendous break on the football.
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Physically, he has all the tools you need. He’s got great speed and he’s physical. He’s kind of a throwback type of player. He likes to get in your face.
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C.J. has a knack for the ball and is . . . hard-nosed and wants to hit people.
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He brings an old-school toughness that his teammates feed off. He feels like he is the best player on the [field], and he plays like it. He's got the mental makeup that great corners have, to go along with the physical tools.
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C.J. is a stone cold football player that likes to mix it up and plays with a tremendous swagger. I think most of the great defensive backs have that and so does he. He is also a playmaker that will make things happen when you need him to. C.J.'s greatest strength is probably his hunger. He is a passionate kid that hasn't tapped into his full potential.
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C.J. is the hungriest football player that I’ve ever coached. He has a drive that no other kid I’ve ever coached had. Combine that with his physical skills and you have a star in the makings. He has all the physical tools. He’s just a great kid to be around.
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He’s probably the hungriest kid I’ve ever coached. I’m very proud of him. He’s very business-like and very coachable. He doesn’t feel like he has arrived.
ESPN Insider has a bunch of great insight (they could be making it all up for all I know, but it has the appearance of great insight) on this guy, which you really should go read for yourself. But for you Outsiders, here’s my paraphrase:
Dude’s skinny, but tough. Can do a bunch of different stuff. Tough, but skinny. Both quick and fast. " Fluid and smooth in his hips." Instinctive, with good play recognition and decision-making. Skinny. But tough.
NEW! The Rocky Top Talk Mnemonic Device, in 5-7-5I don’t know about you, but now that we’re nine guys deep into this series, I’m finding that all of these guys are beginning to run together. So I thought I’d proffer a helpful mnemonic to facilitate recall later in the season. Here’s what I have for Fleming, and, what the heck, I’m putting it in the haiku form just because I've missed it so:
Thin, but tough enough.
Hungry. Hoping he likes cheese.
Look him in the eyes.
Take a stab at your own mnemonic below.
Oh, and welcome to Tennessee, C.J. Fleming!