All in one season, two teams with David Fluellen ties made history.
Formerly a University of Toledo running back — he finished with 3,112 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns — Fluellen watched the Rockets win a Mid-American Conference title this fall. His current team, the Tennessee Titans, beat the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend despite an 18-point deficit in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.
Now Fluellen and the team head to Foxborough to face the New England Patriots (13-3), the defending Super Bowl champion.
Q: You’ve been in the league since after the 2014 NFL Draft, but this is your first full year on an NFL roster. Is it sweetened by the fact you get to experience the Titans’ first playoff run since 2008?
A: It was exciting to even be in this position, and playing in a stadium like Arrowhead Stadium — it’s already loud, but the playoff atmosphere just cranks it up by multiples of 100 to make it that much better. Every play counts. Any mistake could cost you the game. [At halftime], the message was that we did so much to get to this point, and we don’t want to let this opportunity slip away.
Q: It’s been an interesting path for you so far: You’ve bounced around the Titans practice squad for the last two years, and you were on the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts rosters but never broke through. Did you ever start to think you weren’t going to get your shot?
A: I just believe everything happens for a reason. I had to go through all that to get to this point. I’m blessed to be in this position, and I love my job.
Q: You’ve played a lot of special teams this season. Was it difficult to change from your primary role as a running back?
A: All year I’ve been a full-course special teams player, and that’s something I really do take pride in. You just have to rewire your mind to not think offense all the time, and just think of being an athlete where you’re going to have to run, block, tackle, and try to do it all. That was really my mindset during the training camp phase and preseason.
Q: You had a touchdown run that sealed one of the Titans’ preseason games against the Carolina Panthers. Do you think that was the moment you finally sealed your spot on the 53-man roster?
A: I don’t think it was just that, I think it was just a nice touch to my preseason resume. Speaking of special teams, I made a tackle inside the 20 on a kickoff, and I just believe I did a good job just doing whatever my job was whenever they put me in.
Q: You’re working alongside talented running backs this year, particularly DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. What’s your relationship like from them, and what have you taught each other?
A: DeMarco is a savvy vet, been in the league for some time now, and he’s consistent at keeping his body up to keep playing this long. Derrick Henry, he’s just a freak of nature in how he’s genetically built, but his hard work and the things he brings from a national championship team at Alabama — I think we’re all just trying to feed off each other and learn from each other, either from mistakes or the good things we do.
Q: Your team got past former teammate Kareem Hunt’s Chiefs in the first round. Did you talk to him at all before or after the game? What’s your relationship like now?
A: We didn’t talk much before the game. Both of us were dialed in. I mean, I love Kareem like a brother, but at the point, he was an enemy, just like I was to him. After the game, we were able to talk and I just congratulated him on the season and his Pro Bowl that he’s going to this month. He’s got a lot of football left to play in this league.
Q: You guys are definitely underdogs against the top-seeded Patriots this Saturday. What does your team need to do to win?
A: We know there’s a lot of people out there who’ve got us not even having a chance, but we have to ignore the noise and believe in what we can do as a football team. It’s no mistake that we got to this point: We got here by hard work, dedication, and the culture that we have as a team. We have to be detailed in this Saturday’s game and not try to beat ourselves in mental mistakes and self-inflicting wounds like penalties.
Q: Your former team, the Toledo Rockets, won their first Mid-American Conference title since 2004. Did you get a chance to congratulate any of your former teammates and coaches?
A: I feel like for a lot of people that went to Toledo, to finally bring the MAC Championship back was basically a sigh of relief. It’s just something now that we can brag about: Toledo’s back on the map and hopefully keep it going.
Q: Why did you select Toledo when you were at Lockport High School (New York)?
A: At that time, I didn’t take my ACTs or SATs until close to signing day. A lot of schools kind of backed out because they didn’t know if I was going to qualify [academically] or not, and Toledo, they just stuck with me and supported me the whole process. When I finally did qualify right before signing day, there was no hesitation that I wanted to sign there, at a school that had supported me, had a family atmosphere, and always had a good tradition of running backs.
Q: Are you still connected to Toledo?
A: When I have time in the offseason, I come out and visit. Me and the coaches at Toledo, we still communicate — actually, coach [Jason] Candle came out to the game at Arrowhead to support me, Kareem, and [Titans punter] Brett Kern. I think we’re all still connected to the Toledo area. I’m glad I took the journey through Toledo — I wouldn’t change it one bit.
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