Big man on campusPCA’s Fleming makes impression in freshman year

Published 11:27 am Monday, September 24, 2012

Some of the stories about Bryce Fleming sound like — no pun intended — tall tales.

“He was born two months premature and he still weighed 71⁄2 pounds. He was shaving in the fifth grade,” his father, Porters Chapel Academy defensive coordinator Bill Fleming, said with a chuckle and an honest smile.

“Last year,” added teammate Rich Murphy, a senior linebacker who transferred to PCA from Warren Central in 2011, “the first time I saw him, I thought he was a year older than me. I said, ‘OK, they’ve got a pretty big senior. Then they told me he was in eighth grade.”

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At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Bryce Fleming isn’t necessarily huge by football standards, even for a 15-year-old freshman. It’s not just his size that’s inspiring the growing legend, though. It’s the way he plays.

Fleming, an offensive and defensive lineman, has already cemented his spot in the starting lineup. He leads PCA with 63 tackles — after making 12 Friday against Benton Academy — and has gained notice from teammates and opponents alike for his ability to disrupt gameplans.

“That little Fleming kid, No. 74, for a ninth-grader he’s bad. He put it on our senior (center) all night,” Newton Academy coach Robert Roberts said after Fleming turned in a 16-tackle game against his team on Sept. 7.

Fleming’s ascent to the varsity ranks as a freshman came as no surprise to those within PCA’s football program.

Always a big kid, Fleming played with the school’s junior high team while most of his classmates were on the fourth- and fifth-grade peewee team. As an eighth-grader last year, he was moved to the varsity team after the junior high season concluded in October.

“My eighth-grade year was the only year I played junior high against people my age,” Fleming said, before adding a piece to the legend himself. “I got thrown out of a game once because I was too big. We were playing Rebul, and their quarterback ran into me and fell down. The coach started complaining and the referee told me I had to leave the game, basically, because I was so much bigger.”

Fleming was naturally blessed with the size to be a dominant lineman. His father is 6-foot-4 and weighs more than 300 pounds. One of his grandfathers was 7-foot-1. The other was more than 6 feet tall and played running back at Itawamba Community College in the 1960s.

“He was always in the 175th percentile on the growth chart,” Bill Fleming said. “They always thought he was going to be about 6-9.”

Bill Fleming, a longtime coach, said he recognized his son’s natural gift and sought to hone it from an early age. He had Bryce doing football drills as early as 6 years old. Bill Fleming then coached PCA’s peewee and junior high teams while his son was growing as a football player and didn’t cut him any slack because they shared a last name.

“He’s hard on me because he wants me to be the best I can be,” Bryce Fleming said. “He wants to show that just because I’m his son, it doesn’t mean nothing. You’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”

So far, Fleming has done that and then some. PCA head coach Wade Patrick marveled at how well Fleming has played, even while he’s still learning the nuances of his position and the game.

“You don’t see it often that a kid starts as a ninth-grader, at least on the line. You see it more with a skill guy. To have a guy his size, strength and speed, you just don’t see it with a young kid,” Patrick said. “He still has some things to learn, like the right angles to take and how to take people on, but he’s doing well. If he continues on that track, I look for big things the next three or four years.”

Fleming wasn’t trying to look that far ahead. He feels like he’s seen improvement in his game as this season has progressed, but knows there’s a long way to go and a lot to learn.

“I’ve thought about it, but I always focus on the here and now,” Fleming said of the prospect of one day playing college football. “If it turns out the way it’s supposed to when I get older, great.”