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Basketball champion Fleming hopes to gain similar success for Monessen football

| Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

When it's all said and done, Monessen's Cory Fleming just wants to go down in the history books as a winner.

With two WPIAL Class A basketball titles under his belt — the most recent in March — Fleming has taken on a new challenge as the starting quarterback for the Greyhounds with the goal of leading a proud program back to prominence.

“Being remembered as a winner is a pretty important thing to me,” said Fleming, a senior who is ranked No. 1 in his class and hopes to close his academic career as valedictorian. “I just want to be remembered when I leave and give me and my teammates a positive impact on the field this year.”

Coming off a last-place finish in the WPIAL Class A Tri-County South Conference — and the worst season in the program's storied history — Fleming said he feels the pressure in his final season to turn out a winner ... and it all starts with him.

“There's definitely a little bit of pressure to win,” Fleming said. “At Monessen, when you put on the black and white, you want to keep with the tradition.”

Fleming, a four-sport athlete, took over under center following the third game of the 2016 season. He moved from wide receiver to quarterback and passed for 371 yards and four touchdowns in the Greyhounds' run-heavy offense. Those numbers are expected to swell under first-year coach Mikey Blainefield's new spread offense. Blainefield thinks with Fleming's smarts, leadership and championship experience that he is the ideal candidate to lead the new attack.

“It all starts with the quarterback,” said Blainefield, who coached Fleming at the middle school level. “He's one of the smartest players that I've ever seen. He's one of those coaches-on-the-field-type of players. He can read defenses, he understands concepts really quickly, and he makes my job a little easier by teaching and getting the other kids to understand the concepts.”

The 2017 offensive concept is something fans of Monessen football never have seen before. Blainefield is playing to the Greyhounds' strengths by installing the spread offense and putting as many athletic playmakers on the field as possible. The new offense was love at first sight for Fleming.

“I pretty much have every play down pat and not just what I'm supposed to do but what everybody else is supposed to do,” Fleming said.

In past years, Monessen either had a talented offensive line and lacked talent at the skilled positions or vise versa. Fleming said this season is the first time the Greyhounds talent is complementary in both areas.

“It definitely seems like this is the year to turn it around,” Fleming said.

Fleming's cupboard is filled with talent at wide receiver. He sang the praises of 6-foot-2 junior receiver Darnel Howel who returned to the field faster and stronger. Despite his inexperience at the varsity level, 5-6 freshman Isaiah Beltram has proved, early on, to have the most reliable hands on the team.

“(Beltram) has the best hands on the team, and anything I throw to him he usually catches it,” Fleming said. “I just love throwing the ball to him.”

Tight end turned wide receiver Isaiah Allums returned for his senior season slimmed down and will round out Fleming's trio of receiving threats. Fleming described Allums as the most polished route runner.

“Since I'm a leader this year, I have to be more of a vocal leader,” Fleming said.

It's difficult to say a Week Zero game can define a season, but a win over a rival can do wonders for a team that has struggled in recent years. Fleming said a win over Charleroi will give the Greyhounds the quick start they need.

“It's huge that we win the first game,” Fleming said. “It's very important, especially considering its a huge rivalry against Charleroi, and we lost (last season).”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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