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Penn State Football Wide Receiver Julian Fleming Leaving Injuries, Ohio State In Past

Julian Fleming

With more than a dozen phones and a handful of cameras circled around him, Julian Fleming held court.

It was a strange sight to see. Fleming stood in the end zone of Holuba Hall, Penn State football’s practice facility, wearing a blue cutoff and a Penn State headband. The tattoos Fleming sported in years past still graced his torso and neck, but the colors contrasting them on his uniform changed drastically.

Just a few months earlier, Fleming was part of the Ohio State offense that gave the Nittany Lions their first loss of the 2023 season. In eight months, he’ll try to return the favor when the Buckeyes come to State College while he runs out of Beaver Stadium’s south tunnel with the Nittany Lion logo on his chest.

Fleming’s journey to Penn State was well-documented. In a difficult recruiting battle, Fleming chose to attend Ohio State as a five-star wide receiver from Pennsylvania. He was the top prospect in Pennsylvania, a subset of high school recruits that Penn State head coach James Franklin rarely misses on signing.

However, Fleming struggled with the Buckeyes. He never amounted to the wide receiver of Ohio State’s dreams as injuries repeatedly hampered his career.

After four years in Columbus, Ohio, Fleming went home. He signed with Penn State to play for the Nittany Lions in his final season of NCAA eligibility.

“It’s crazy… But honestly, it’s been awesome,” Fleming said Tuesday after one of Penn State’s spring practices. “The coaches have been great, players are very welcoming. So it’s been a great opportunity.”

When Fleming entered the transfer portal in December 2023, he didn’t reach out to any coaches beforehand. Instead, he went in blind, speaking only to whoever picked up the phone.

One of his most notable callers was Franklin. In need of a boost for a wide receiver corps that struggled in 2023, Franklin turned to the recruit he dreamed of having four years prior. Fleming and Franklin rekindled their relationship and, within a month, Fleming was a Nittany Lion.

Fleming held no bad blood with Ohio State. He expressed his appreciation for his four years spent in Columbus but added that he felt the move to Penn State was what was best for him.

“I went to Ohio State for four years. I got to go. I got to get developed as a man and as a person,” Fleming said. “I thank them for everything that they did, but I didn’t make a decision that was going to be best for me in the long run.”

Fleming’s development as a player at Ohio State was frequently stunted. Injuries with his shoulders held him back from reaching his potential. While the Buckeyes found top stars at wide receiver, Fleming watched as a third wide receiver option as Marvin Harrison Jr. found his place among the wide receiver greats.

Still, Fleming found positivity in his injury history.

“There’s been a lot that has definitely worn on me but there’s no growth without adversity. So I definitely credit all my injuries to the person that I am today, the grown-up that I am today compared to what I used to be,” Fleming said. “And obviously they stink when they happen, but they definitely built me into who I am right now.”

At Penn State, Fleming said he’s the healthiest he’s ever been in his college football career. It wasn’t the first time he’s said he feels 100%, but the receiver felt that surgeries and Penn State’s strength and conditioning staff have steadied him through spring ball.

For the first time in his collegiate career, Fleming seems like he’ll last an entire spring football calendar without missing practice due to injury.

Fleming has spent those spring practices as the newest addition to a wide receiver corps that’s been under a microscope. Since the group wasn’t able to find its hold on the 2023 season, and noticeably came up short in the Peach Bowl, each wide receiver from KeAndre Lambert-Smith to Omari Evans has been put under increased scrutiny by fans and media.

Fleming wasn’t a part of that group that struggled during the 2023 season but said that when he parachuted into the locker room in the winter, he noticed the group’s energy after taking criticism for several months.

“They definitely have a chip on their shoulder. They’re definitely hungry, and I’m really excited to be working with them,” Fleming said.

Despite being brought in to be one of the group’s most exciting signings, Fleming said building up the wide receiver corps wasn’t all on him or any other specific players.

“I don’t think it’s an individual role,” he said. “It is going to be a collective role with all of us and it’s going to start with coaching.”

When Fleming takes to Beaver Stadium as a Penn State player for the team’s Blue-White Game in just under two weeks, it will be far from the first time he’s stepped on the stadium’s grass. He’s been on the field as a recruit and as a Buckeye.

The Blue-White Game and the seven games of the 2024 season that follow will be a stark contrast to what Fleming’s history at the stadium has looked like. Instead of wearing the scarlet and gray of the team that’s defeated Penn State nine times in the last decade, he’ll wear the blue and white of his new team.

It’ll be a mixed bag of emotions for Fleming and the fans he disappointed four years ago.

“It’s going to be kind of crazy. It’s going to be nostalgic, to say the least,” Fleming said. “I’ve been able to see the atmosphere, the most amazing in college football and I’ve been able to see it from the opposite end. To be on the same end of it this year, it’s going to be a great feeling.”

When Fleming was trying to decide whether or not he should enter the transfer portal, the NFL was on his mind.

In his mind, Fleming was split 50/50. He could declare for the NFL Draft and hope to hear his name called. Or he could leave Ohio State and head for another college.

Fleming opted for the latter. He earned another year of college football, a chance to prove himself to those watching, and a chance to prove himself to himself. For Fleming, Penn State was the final rite of passage before he continues to the next phase of his life.

“I have one year left of college and I really wanted to maximize it,” Fleming said. “I felt like the opportunity here is great.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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