CATAWISSA — There are many positives to being a highly recruited high school football player.
Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming, the top-ranked wide receiver in the Class of 2020, freely admits as much.
There are also a lot of negatives in a process he called “a blessing and a curse.”
“It was very fun,” said Fleming, who verbally committed to Ohio State on Friday. “Visits were very fun. When you’re on your phone all the time, not fun. Talking to coaches, fun and not fun. It was a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I don’t have to pay to go to college and I get to do what I love.
“The bad side — social media is horrible; I get the worst of it on social media. It’s bad. I go through my messages sometimes and I get death threats.
Fleming received his first offer from a Power 5 school — Michigan — as a freshman.
“For an athlete to get the attention and the offers that he has at a young age — he started getting offers after his freshman year — I was sitting there thinking this could go one of two ways,” Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth said. “Either he could get a huge head and a huge ego and he may be difficult to deal with, or, hopefully, he handles it the right way, which he did.”
Before committing to the Buckeyes, Fleming had whittled his final list to Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, Alabama and Georgia. A few months ago, many expected him to stay in-state and play for the Nittany Lions. Fleming's decision to play for the Buckeyes was considered a major loss for PSU head coach James Franklin.
A weight is lifted: Fleming seemed to have a weight lifted off his shoulders after making his decision public.
“I’m tired of the recruiting process,” Fleming said. “I’m tired of the text messages and the phone calls.
“I feel wonderful,” Fleming continued. “(Friday) my friends were like, ‘You seem so energetic and happy.’ ... To finally have this big thing out of the picture and off my shoulders, to be able to spend time with my friends and only have to talk to one or two coaches, I was excited for it to be over.”
His decision sparked social media outrage from some, and caused other schools to reach out to try to schedule more visits with the hope of changing his mind, but Fleming said he was 100% committed to the Buckeyes.
“Everybody has their opinions,” Fleming said. “You can love me, you can hate me, but I’m just going to go out and have a good time doing what I love to do.”
The process started in earnest for Fleming early this school year — when the contact period began Sept. 1.
“I didn’t realize how many coaches there were until my phone started to ring, and it kept ringing until 3 or 4 in the morning,” Fleming said. “It was ridiculous. That’s when I knew this was a big thing.”
Fleming said some recruiters only talked to him about football, which he found off-putting.
“We have gone on some visits where they only talked about football and nothing else,” Fleming said. “Those were the craziest because they were acting like football was going to take you forever.
“Education is going to take you further.”
Negative recruiting: Something else that bothered him was when teams tried to negatively recruit against Ohio State because Urban Meyer was leaving after last season and Ryan Day was taking over as Buckeyes head coach.
“Some coaches tried to use it against them, but at the same time they hurt themselves,” Fleming said. “Bad-mouthing another school just shows weakness in yourself.
“That kind of drove me away from those schools.”
Fleming said there was a lot he had to wade through, such as who was just telling him what he wanted to hear and who was being honest. He said a factor in his decision was the relationship he developed with Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, a former Buckeye and six-year pro.
“You have to see who is a real person and who is a recruiter,” Fleming said. “I think I got the best of both worlds with coach Hartline, who is a great recruiter and an even better overall person.”
Fleming said he wished he had a better handle on that aspect of it when the process began.
“I wish I would have known that almost every speech that every coach gives you is B.S.,” he said. “Everything about recruiting is B.S. If you can go in and a tell a kid what they want to hear, and they fall for it, congratulations. A lot of kids fall for it. ... A lot of kids go for materialistic stuff.”
Early on in the process, Fleming’s mom, Betsy, had to take his phone away for a couple days.
“At one point, I felt like I was being taken over by the recruiting,” Fleming said. “When she did that, I realized it was my process. I needed to take it in stride and really get what I wanted out of it.”
Fleming said the process also helped him realize he needed to continue to work to achieve what he wanted.
“He looked at it as an opportunity,” Roth said. “The thing that is really impressive is it motivated him to work harder.”
For now, Fleming is ready to enjoy summer and get ready for the fall as the Tigers seek their third straight state title. As for opposing fans? Fleming isn’t worried.
“Everybody has their two cents, and there’s going to be some nasty comments,” Fleming said. “It’s all about tuning them out — letting it go in one ear and out the other.”