Senior tight end Steve Fleming seems to be a perfect fit for his position
By Jessica Fish
Arizona Athletics Media Relations
According to head coach Mike Stoops, redshirt senior Steve Fleming is a “prototypical” tight end. “He’s a great blocker and a great receiver, and that’s what great tight ends do,” Stoops said.
Though Fleming began his collegiate football career as a quarterback, he proved last season that he could put up some impressive numbers at the position he seems physically made for.
Fleming has been at tight end since the summer of 2001, and despite the Wildcats’ dismal record last year, managed to amass 222 yards and two touchdowns on 24 catches. He posted a 9.2 yards-per-catch average, capturing the highest single-season total numbers for a tight end since Brandon Manumaleuna in 1999.
In last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to TCU, Fleming came up with some huge plays for Arizona. He caught a career-long 58-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kris Heavner for his first career touchdown and finished the game with three receptions for 64 yards.
“The best game of my career is the TCU game last year, even though we went into overtime and lost,” Fleming said. “Our offense was having trouble scoring, and I had some big plays. It was just a really competitive, close game, and it was really physical.”
As it happens, physical games may turn out to be Fleming’s fort?©. At 6-foot-6 and more than 250 pounds, the tight end has the height to make catches over the middle, which makes him an ideal short-yardage target for the Wildcats’ young stable of quarterbacks. Fleming’s size could be the difference between a win and a loss, something that Arizona’s brand-new coaching staff takes seriously.
“He’ll be a vital part of us winning or losing games,” Wildcats’ tight ends coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “He needs to play well for us, and I’m con-fident he will.”
All too frequently players trade size for speed and agility, but Fleming has both in his arsenal. His size allows him to help the offensive line protect the quarter-back, but he also has the hands and speed to catch a lot of passes.
“Steve brings a lot to the tight end position,” Stoops said. “He receives well and blocks well. There’s not a lot of guys that can do both as well as he can, so I think he’s a very versatile player.”
Fleming’s versatility will no doubt help him on the field in the inaugural year of the Mike Stoops era at Arizona, but it has already helped him cope with four different head coaches in his time with the Wildcats. Through every coaching change thrown his way, Fleming has remained steady as a leader and an example to his teammates, an honor recently reflected in his being voted a team captain by his fellow players.
“He’s been here a long time, and he’s been through a lot,” Stoops said. “He’s had to persevere through quite a bit, and we’re looking for big things on and off the field from Steve.”
Though he’s endured more coaching changes than any collegiate player should have to, Fleming says Stoops’ program is different from any he’s experienced thus far.
“The coaching staff is a lot more intense and a lot more emotional this year,” Fleming said. “They’ve brought a new attitude. We’ve got a lot more confidence than we had the past few years.”
Perhaps confidence was the missing ingredient in the Wildcats’ last few seasons. If so, confidence is what Arizona found in Fleming’s favorite game of his career: last year’s 27-22 upset of Washington in Tucson that snapped the Wildcats 13-game home losing streak.
“The Washington game was my favorite, just because we won,” Fleming said. “We weren’t expected to win, and we were going through a lot of turmoil at the time. The fans rushing on the field was a real rush, and we finally got a home win. It had been so long. I was proud of us.”
Fleming has done his job for Arizona for the past four years, and he hopes to continue that job in the professional ranks following the season.
“If I could play for anyone, it would probably be the Patriots,” Fleming said with a smile. “It would be nice to win.”
Though this will be Spurrier’s first season working with Fleming, he believes the Scottsdale, Ariz., native has the potential to succeed at the next level.
“He certainly has the size and the hands to play in the NFL,” Spurrier said. “He’ll be competing against a very elite group of people to make that position, but he definitely has a chance.”
Operating under the command of one of the country’s elite defensive minds in Stoops, Fleming might worry about being overlooked on offense. But he has captured the attention and approval of a new coaching staff and earned the respect of a team that is yet again caught in transition between coaching staffs.
Fleming has little reason to worry about disappearing behind Stoops’ focus on defense. He is tailor-made to excel at his position, and equally suited to the task of helping lead the Wildcats back to a winning season.
Article first appeared in the Sept. 11 Arizona football game program