When he came to the University of Toledo, running back David Fluellen had no idea how to operate the film projector in the team’s meeting room.
Fluellen, who rarely studied game footage, had little interest in navigating the device.
"My freshman year, it was very complicated," he said. "I didn’t know how to work it."
Three years later, the more studious Fluellen might watch more film than the Academy Awards committee, a labor of love he credits for his breakout season for the 6-1 Rockets. Heading into Saturday’s test against No. 21 Cincinnati, the junior from Lockport, N.Y. has logged three straight 100-yard games and is on track to elbow his way into the program’s lineage of stalwart backs.
His typical daily routine is exhausting just to listen to. Fluellen wakes at 4:30 a.m. and heads to McDonald’s — "I’ve got a bad habit" — and arrives to an empty meeting room by 5 or 5:30. While devouring breakfast, he first watches a cut-up on the upcoming opponent from last year’s meeting, identifying any weaknesses that former Rockets back Adonis Thomas was able to exploit. It was at the urging of Thomas that Fluellen developed better study habits.
"He told me it comes from the film," Fluellen said. "Once you watch it over and over and over again, it just automatically transforms onto the field where you don’t miss that block, and you don’t miss that read."
He then dissects Toledo’s game from the week before. Fluellen rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday at Eastern Michigan, but those dazzling numbers don’t jibe with his assessment of his play. "Should have run through arm tackles, finding the right hole, being more patient."
The remainder of his day goes as follows: Weight lifting, classes, treatment, team meetings, more film, practice (some days he stays after to snare passes from quarterback Terrance Owens, and others to run sprints), more film, more treatment, and finally dinner. It’s not uncommon for him to again watch film, for the fourth time, before heading home. Bed time is 8:30 p.m. More McDonald’s and more film watching await him in the morning.
"Flu, he just comes to practice real hard," said receiver Bernard Reedy. "That brings the passing game wide open because they have to stop him too."
Fluellen, who labored in the shadows of Thomas his first two seasons, ranks third in the Mid-American Conference and 15th nationally with 792 rushing yards. His nine rushing touchdowns are second most in the MAC, and he is Toledo’s third leading receiver with 21 catches. Projected over a 12-game regular season, Fluellen is on pace for 1,357 yards, which would amount to sixth most in program history, and more than Thomas accumulated in either of his two 1000-yards seasons. Fluellen’s highest productivity came in the past three weeks, with rushing totals of 188, 104, and 213 yards to go along with six scores.
"I expect more than 1000 [yards]," he said. "I just expect so much from myself. I don’t want to be complacent."
Fluellen, who carries on average about 19 times a game, might shoulder an increased load Saturday because of an injury to his understudy. Cassius McDowell (eight carries per game) is on the mend from a leg injury he sustained last week and was considered "probable" on Monday by coach Matt Campbell. Candidates to fill his stead are fifth-year senior David Pasquale, receiver Dwight Macon, and true freshman Damion Jones-Moore, who has yet to make his debut.
No matter the outcome, Fluellen will be in the film room Sunday morning, agonizing over any opportunities he squandered and preparing for a road trip at Buffalo.
"I really don’t have a social life," he said. "I feel like I came here to play football, so I try to prioritize what’s important."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.