The Super Bowl champion returned to his high school alma mater Monday afternoon. The 2008 graduate was welcomed back with a school assembly that sent chills down his spine.
"I am not a champion. We are champions," Fleming told a packed gymnasium in Ashburn.
Fleming's visit came just 16 days after the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX. He played on special teams for coach Bill Belichick. The team rallied from 10 points down to beat the defending champion Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Fleming reflected on his career during the assembly. He was drafted by the 49ers in 2012 but missed that season and 2013's campaign due to consecutive knee injuries. He was relegated to the practice squad in New England until landing on the active roster on Nov. 29.
"After my second injury, I started asking if football was for me," said Fleming, a Streeterville resident.
But he continued to rehab his injury and workout. He eventually found a place in the NFL. On Monday, he said the adversity from his injuries and elsewhere in life has made the Super Bowl win even more special.
"My life has been full of challenges. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. That is a challenge in itself," said Fleming, a native of Auburn Gresham.
Ironically, Fleming was actually a better bowler than football player, and as a St. Rita sophomore he almost transferred to nearby Brother Rice, which had a better bowling squad.
St. Rita football coach Todd Kuska is glad he stayed. Kuska met Fleming as a seventh-grader at a youth football camp. Fleming later helped lead the Mustangs to the 2006 Class 7A state crown as a junior before a standout career as an outside linebacker at the University of Notre Dame.
"When you are as talented as he is and you work as hard as he does, good things are gonna happen," Kuska said.
Fleming said he's signed with the Patriots through next year, though he's well aware how uncertain job security is in the NFL. But he's approaching the upcoming season as though it's truly his rookie year — as injuries have kept him sidelined for much of his time since being drafted at No. 165.
As for the pivotal play in the Super Bowl, Fleming said he too was expecting the Seahawks to score a go-ahead touchdown from the one yard line with 20 seconds remaining.
Instead, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette to pick off Russell Wilson's pass. The interception sealed the Super Bowl victory for the Patriots.
"Of course I was worried," Fleming said. "I assumed they were just gonna run the ball in."
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