Darius Fleming has done all he can to prepare for the NFL draft this week.
The speed work, the weight training, the conditioning, the yoga, the flexibility drills, the pool work. The combine. Notre Dame’s pro day. And that work looks as if it will pay off.
Now comes the most torturous part of all – waiting for the call.
After more than three months of preparation, Fleming has improved his draft status. At one time a borderline candidate to be drafted, he now is almost certain to get picked, possibly in the fourth or fifth round. Maybe sooner.
‘‘He’s definitely moved up,” said his agent, Dave Lee of Players Rep Sports Management. ‘‘In the last four days, we’ve had 20 calls from teams. And they do that normally with most guys. But it’s the amount of teams that is the difference. A priority free agent would get five or six. A late-rounder gets maybe a dozen. From [NFL] people I’ve talked to, they don’t think he’s going to last long.”
It’s hard to detect a buzz on mid-to-late-round picks, but Fleming isn’t totally off the radar. ‘‘Darius Fleming has been steadily moving up draft boards,” reported Russ Lande of The Sporting News last week. ‘‘After his college career, he was viewed as a solid but unspectacular player. But at his pro day workout, he displayed much better quickness, speed and athleticism than expected. Look for Fleming to be picked in the fourth or fifth round.”
But you never know. So when Fleming’s father, Larry Fleming Sr., and his mother, Leona Nelson, get together with relatives and friends this week on the South Side to watch the draft unfold on television, Darius won’t be there. The former St. Rita star will be golfing with friends – including other potential draftees, such as Penn State fullback Joe Suhey and Northern Illinois wide receiver Nathan Palmer – or doing anything as far away from a television as possible.
‘‘I’m not going to watch the draft,” Darius said. ‘‘I don’t want to drive myself crazy. If I’m sitting there watching it and waiting for the next pick, I know I’ll do that. So me and a couple of guys who feel the same way, we’re going to go golfing and try to get our minds off the whole draft thing and wait for our phones to ring.”
He knows his parents and family members hoping to celebrate a big moment will understand.
‘‘It’s not to be disrespectful to my family because I would love to enjoy the moment with them and they know that,” Fleming said. ‘‘They want to watch it and I don’t blame them. This is an exciting moment for them. But I can’t do it. I’ll drive myself crazy.”
Fleming has learned from the experience of one of his best friends, Ian Williams, his former roommate at Notre Dame. Williams, a starting nose tackle at Notre Dame, was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round in the draft last year. The Sporting News – the same publication that has Fleming pegged to go in the fourth or fifth round this year – had Williams going in the third round. He went undrafted.
‘‘Last year, he was really highly rated to get picked and he was expecting that,” Fleming said. ‘‘All his family and friends got together and it was a sad thing. He didn’t get [drafted] and he was kind of embarrassed, sitting in the hotel room with all his family and friends watching the draft and when the last pick came in, his name still wasn’t called.”
Williams recovered from that ignominy. He made the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and was on their 53-man roster through the playoffs. Fleming is hoping to avoid that route to the NFL.
‘‘I’m pretty confident,” he said. ‘‘I think I’ve done everything I could have done. What happens is out of my control. So, those things I can’t worry about. What I can control is what I continue to do and that’s continue to get in shape and prepare myself the best I can so whatever happens, I can go to a team and compete at a high level.”
As for the family get-together, ‘‘It’s going to be low-key,” Larry Fleming said. ‘‘Just some light snacks and sit back and enjoy the draft. I’m just really excited for him. I feel like he deserves this. I’m very proud of him. But I’m more proud of him graduating [from Notre Dame] and the way he kept his grades up. I’m going to be elated when I see him walk across that stage next month.”