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Written by: Dave Fegley on Friday, December 7th, 2018
By: Dave Fegley (12-7-18)
Gatorade sponsors the highest award possible for high school athletes across the country. A selection committee goes through a lengthy process to determine the winner of the Gatorade High School Player of the Year awards across the United States in numerous sports. They select just one winner from the 50 states for each of the 12 sports that they recognize. With the popularity of football, the Gatorade High School Football Athlete of the Year seems to always draw the most attention.
Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming was selected as the Gatorade Pennsylvania High School Football Player of the Year. The Tigers have been the most successful program in PA since this award was created back in 1985, but Fleming becomes the first from the school to ever win the award. “It’s a great feeling knowing that only one player wins it in each state. It’s just a real honor to be recognized with other great players across the country,” Fleming said in school yesterday. It came just a couple of hours after he was notified that he was selected as the 2018 Gatorade Pennsylvania Football Player of the Year.
In the 34 years this award has been giving out, Southern Columbia has been coached by Jim Roth during the entire span. During that time, nobody has won more state championships than Roth’s teams. “We have had some great players come through our program, but this is the first time for this. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and I’m sure the attention he is getting from major college programs helps,” said Roth. “The bottom line though is he has certainly earned it on the field with what he has done.”
Since only one player receives this award in each state, the recipient needs to find a way to truly stand out above everyone. “The most impressive part of Julian’s success is that he always goes up against double teams and sometimes he even has three guys covering him. He still finds a way to keep on being successful at such a high level,” Roth said. “Our starters haven’t had to play in the second half of most of the games this season due to the large leads we’ve had, so his statistical numbers could be that much higher if he had more time on the field.”
For anyone that hasn’t ever seen the 6’3” junior play, his stats speak for themself. “I just go out there and try do whatever I am expected to do on each play. Whether it’s catching the ball, blocking, playing defense, or returning on special teams,” Fleming said. He broke every school receiving record by the middle of his sophomore season, and he reached the top of every District IV record earlier this season.
The 210-pound Division 1 recruit sits in the top five of every Pennsylvania receiving record with an entire senior season in front of him. “Who knows what his final stat lines will look like after next season. I’m sure he will be pretty high up in the national record books as well,” said his coach. Fleming has been a three sport star for his high school. As a freshman, he qualified for the state meet in track and field in all four of his events becoming the first athlete ever to do so from SCA. On the hardwood, Fleming should be the next Tiger to eclipse the 1,000 point scoring mark this winter despite missing most of last season with an injury.
Fleming burst onto the scene as a freshman by catching 36 passes for 956 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Tigers finished as the PIAA runner-up. As a sophomore, he was a nightmare for opposing defenses in helping to lead Southern Columbia to a state-record eighth state championship. He finished with 1,462 yards on 69 receptions and 20 touchdowns and went on to win the PIAA Class 2A Player of the Year.
This season, the Tigers ride a 31-game winning streak into a rematch of last year’s state championship opponent Wilmington. Entering the final, the 2018 Gatorade Pennsylvania Football Player of the Year has 72 receptions for 1,495 yards and 22 touchdowns. On defense, he has a team-high four interceptions and three of those he has returned for touchdowns. On special teams, he hasn’t had many return opportunities because the opposition quite frankly is scared to kick it to him. With his gaudy offensive numbers, it is often overlooked that he is averaging better than 41 yards per punt in limited duty with the offense’s success all year.
The last three winners of this award for Pennsylvania are all playing for top-level collegiate programs. Last year’s winner, Phil Jurkovec, is a quarterback on ta Notre Dame roster headed to the Division 1 College Football Semi-Finals. The two prior winners Lamont Wade (Penn State) and Brandon Mcilwain (Cal) both have aspirations to make the NFL. Former Berwick quarterback Ron Powlus actually went a step higher and won the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year in 1992 and is the closest in proximity to Southern Columbia out of anyone that has won the award in PA.
Who exactly is in the same company as Fleming from other states? The club includes many NFL hall of fame players and stars like Emmitt Smith (1986), Jerome Bettis (1989), Peyton Manning (1994), and Randy Moss (1995). “All it is about at this point for me is hard-work and dedication. Maybe one day I could make it to where they have gotten to, but right now I am trying to help my team in high school,” said a humble Fleming.
Another part of winning the award is being successful academically and in the community. With all the attention Fleming has received, he has still found a way to carry a B+ GPA in the classroom and is also active in making an impact for the community. Earlier in the season, he made it known that his college choice will have to do with academic opportunities. “That is really the main part in picking the right college. Obviously the NFL is a very rare opportunity, so you want to set yourself up for a future job,” Fleming said after a playoff game earlier this season. He volunteers at numerous events throughout the year and also is a supporter of youth athletics in the community. Any time someone asks him for an autograph or picture, he will make sure to make it happen.
According to ESPN, Fleming is the top rated junior wide receiver in the USA for 2020. The country has certainly been watching him progress as he has received offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, and more than 25 other top-ranked Division 1 programs. Right now though, he has one goal in mind. “We want to win another state championship and go out and dominate the opponent,” Fleming said. The Tigers will look to back-to-back at 1:00 today in Hershey Park Stadium.
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