By: Santino Filoso
Today’s interview features Ottawa native and former Renegades punter Pat Fleming. With 19,838 career punting yards to his credit, Pat averaged 41.7 yards per kick over the course of his five years in the CFL. The Renegades’ 2003 rookie of the year was selected by the Hamilton Ticats in the Renegades’ dispersal draft and finished his career with the Winnipeg Bombers.
As an Ottawa native, did you go to many Rough Rider games as a child?
My dad was a season ticket holder when I was growing up and still is today. I went to a lot of the games with him and loved it. I have lots of memories growing up watching the Rough Riders and actually my 5th grade project was on the CFL and the Grey Cup.
Have you always been a punter or did you make the switch from another position at some point?
Growing up I played defensive back (DB) and free safety (FS). When I went to college at Bowling Green I went as a safety and punter. Once I earned a scholarship as the starting punter I knew my days playing DB were over. That’s when I became strictly a punter. I started punting and kicking when I was 10 years old when my coach at the time asked us “Who can kick the ball?”. I didn’t know I could until I tried it but I was the best on our team and realized I was blessed with the ability to kick the ball far. The rest is history.
The Renegades selected you in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft (11th overall), did you have any idea that they were interested in you?
None whatsoever, my mother heard it on the radio and she called me to let me know. At the time I still had a year left at Bowling Green.
How did it feel to spend three years playing for your hometown team?
It was amazing. There’s nothing like playing on the same field where you grew up watching Rough Rider greats and dreaming about being a professional football player. I enjoyed my time in Hamilton and Winnipeg, but nothing compares to playing in your home town, in front of friends and family. I loved my time in Ottawa.
On your first kick you ended up spraining your ankle and missing a few weeks, probably not how you imagined your debut going right?
Not at all, but luckily I had a good week in camp before that exhibition game so the coaching staff didn’t judge me on that punt, which wasn’t my best. It happened so fast and I ended up missing the first five games due to that high ankle sprain.
Looking back on your time with the Renegades, what sticks with you the most?
That I got to play on the same field that Rough Riders like Orville Lee, Rohan Marley, Ken Evraire, Terry Baker, Damon Allen and Darren Joseph played on. It’s funny because when I was in the 5th grade Damon Allen came to my school and talked to my class, 15 years later I’m teammates with Darren Joseph and playing against Damon Allen. Talk about surreal.
I’m not sure if you’re aware but according to CFL.ca you’ve got a career QB rating of -414.6 for attempting two passes that were both picked off. Is that an accurate reflection of your QB skills?’
LOL. Despite being picked off I think both worked out okay. The first pass was a fake punt call in Montreal. I rolled left and tried to throw the ball to the receiver but was picked off. It ended up working out okay as it yielded us about 18 yards in field position. The second attempt wasn’t a called fake punt, but came off a bad snap. I knew I couldn’t get the punt off without it being blocked, so I took off and ran for the first down marker. Initially I saw the chains and thought I could make it, only to realize that I was looking at the beginning of the chains and still had another 10 yards to go with a DB barreling down on me. I reacted quickly and threw towards a receiver, but was intercepted again. We still gained 25 yards so it wasn’t a total disaster.
As the punter you often end up as the last man between the returner and the end zone, what kind of things go through your mind when you know that you HAVE to make that open field tackle?
I loved it. Growing up playing safety I enjoyed contact and wasn’t shy of hitting. I always used to run down field quickly for two reasons. One was to get involved in the action and make some tackles and the other was because the returners were faster than me. Tackling the extremely fast guys in the open field was very difficult, so by running down field I could contain them in the holes before they’d break free.
Could you share with our readers who might not know, why you changed your number from 48 to 28?
When I was drafted the coaches asked me if I wanted to keep my college number and I said yes. I ended up changing numbers because we ran a fake field goal where it was a direct snap to our kicker Lawrence Tynes. I was the holder and ran down the line towards the right as Lawrence shovel passed me the ball. It worked great and I gained 18 yards before being knocked out of bounds on the 3 yard line. Unfortunately it was called back on a flag for an “ineligible receiver”. Back then players with numbers in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s had to report to the ref before the play. The coaching staff wasn’t aware and so the next day when I came to practice they told me my new number was 28 so that if we ever ran the fake again I’d actually be eligible.
What was your favourite fake or trick play to run?
The one I just mentioned because it was my play. What I mean by that is that I came up with it in practice and the coaches actually ran it.
Did you have any specific pre-game rituals or habits?
I’d always go for a walk about 4-5 hours before the game, come back and eat my pre-game meal.
What’s worse to kick in, rain or extreme cold?
Cold is hard because your hands get so dry and slick that the ball slips out of your hands. You end up constantly licking them to get some tack on them. Rain isn’t much fun either, but the ball boys usually do a good job keeping the balls dry. I always thought the worst were games in late October/early November where it was both cold and rainy.
Hang time > directional kicking?
I played college ball in the States so hang time was a big deal. I loved punting for hang time. I was blessed with a strong leg so I was able to get great air under the ball. I struggled with directional kicking throughout my career because I never actually had to do it in college. I always preferred punting for hang time as it was more natural for me.
Just how hard is it to angle a kick to a certain point on the field?
It’s hard because there are factors that people don’t think of such as the snap, blocking protection, wind, the rushers barreling at you and your steps have to be exact. In most CFL stadiums the wind swirls so the direction you see the flags moving on the field isn’t always accurate.
Is there one thing about being a kicker that most people probably don’t realize?
How athletic you need to be. Kickers and punters for the most part have to be athletic and not just able to kick a ball. Most kickers and punters in the CFL/NFL were great athletes growing up and played multiple position in high school.
Are you a fan of the rouge or is there some merit to the argument that it rewards failure?
I don’t think it rewards failure and it’s been part of our game for so long so I say keep it. Plus it’s one of those things that makes our game different from the NFL.
Since you retired what have you been doing for work?
I’m a licensed kinesiologist and the owner of Fleming Fitness. We’re a team of certified trainers and kinesiologists that specialize in injury rehab. We’re mobile, so we go into people’s homes and help them get set up on an exercise program designed for their needs.
Have you ever given any thought to coaching?
Nah, I try and help out kids as much as I can as a guest coach. That’s the extent of my coaching career.
Last year the Redblacks struggled to a 2-16 record, what do they need to address this off-season to ensure they improve next season?
First off, I think we were better than our record showed. We competed in a lot of games and lost some really tough, close games. Our defense was great. The offense struggled a bit, but with our new additions to OL and WR I think we’ll be better. Adding Jason Maas as the Offensive Coordinator was a great addition as well. He had a great CFL career as a player and it seems to be translating over into his coaching career. We were teammates in 2006 in Hamilton and he was one of the hardest working guys on the team by far. In terms of special teams I think Maher did a good job punting and kicking.
Thanks for your time and best of luck in your future endeavours!
– Images via Scott Grant