SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Linebacker Darius Fleming epitomizes Notre Dame's season.
He was the picture of Notre Dame's futility against Michigan when he appeared to have quarterback Tate Forcier trapped for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-3 early in the fourth quarter with the Wolverines leading 24-20. But when Forcier cut left, Fleming was left sprawled on his knees grasping at air as Forcier ran untouched to the end zone to give the Wolverines an 11-point lead en route to a 38-34 victory.
Fleming took some kidding about the miss, but didn't let it get him down. A week later, he hit Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins as he threw a pass that Kyle McCarthy intercepted at the 4-yard line in the final minute to seal a 33-30 victory for Notre Dame (3-1).
Last week in a 24-21 victory over Purdue, Fleming had three tackles for loss, including a sack.
For the season, the 6-1, 240-pound sophomore from Chicago has 11
tackles, seven for loss, including two sacks. He is Notre Dame's most dynamic pass rusher.
"He's most comfortable when he's turned loose to get after the quarterback," coach Charlie Weis said. "He plays with a high motor at a high speed, and I think that he is starting to get more comfortable what he's doing."
Fleming made the move from defensive end to strongside linebacker this season and he has had to learn more about pass coverage. He's also had to learn more about what others are doing around him.
"He has a tremendous first step and he can read blocks very well. He knows how to get through and he understands protections. That's the key to success," defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said.
Not bad for a guy who didn't play organized football until high school.
The sport he was most serious about until he started getting football scholarship offers was bowling. He was so committed to bowling that he thought about transferring from St. Rita High in Chicago because the bowling team there wasn't good. His football coach talked him out of it.
Fleming still has six bowling balls in the trunk of his car.
"It's a sport where there's not a lot of contact, but there's like a lot of fighting in the game," said Fleming, who once bowled a 289. "Some people don't even think it's a sport. But without contact out there, there's really a lot of fighting going on out there on those lanes."
Fleming also is serious about horses. He used to take part in some riding competitions. Now he just rides for pleasure, though not during the season. He owns two horses, Amigo and Stormy, that he keeps at a stable about 30 minutes from his house. He visits his horses when he can.
"It's a really fun hobby and they're great animals," Fleming said.
He didn't get to spend as much time this offseason as he would have liked with his horses because he was busy working out and studying film with the help of senior Scott Smith, who Fleming beat out for the starting strong safety job.
Fleming credits Smith, who is from Highland Park, Ill., with helping him learn a lot of the intricacies of linebacker play.
"He knows the playbook, I think, better than some of the coaches," Fleming said.
Fleming is continuing to learn. He said the play where he whiffed on Forcier taught him he needs to work harder on his technique and reading his keys.
He'll be facing another elusive quarterback on Saturday in Jake Locker when the Irish play Washington (2-2). Locker set a modern Pac-10 record for yards rushing by a quarterback as a freshman in 2007 with 986 along with 13 rushing touchdowns. Locker is focusing more on passing under first-year Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, but Fleming said the Irish need to be worried about him running.
I think of all the teams we've played he might be the best athlete that we're going to go against," Fleming said. "He's definitely something we have to prepare for."
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