When Joliet Catholic graduate Coby Fleener was selected high in the second round of the NFL draft in 2012, he was thought to be in an advantageous position.
The reason was his buddy and quarterback at Stanford, Andrew Luck, was the Colts’ No. 1 pick that year.
As is often the case, however, it took a while for Fleener to get accustomed to the entirety of the NFL game. Now, he has grown into a major weapon for the AFC South champion Colts and a player fantasy football owners may consider starting.
Last season, the 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end caught 52 passes in 2013 for 608 yards, an 11.7 average, and four touchdowns. With two games remaining this season, he has 42 receptions, which is a similar average per game. However, he already has 682 receiving yards, an average of 16.2 per catch. He has a pair of 73-yard receptions and has scored six touchdowns.
In Sunday’s 17-10 division-clinching win over Houston, Fleener caught two passes for 32 yards. In four of the five previous games, he caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, seven for 144, four for 127 and two scores and five for 56. It’s fair to conclude he is coming into his own.
AROUND THE NFL
Rob Ninkovich (Lincoln-Way Central, JJC) starts at defensive end for New England and has developed into a leader on the Patriots’ defense. He is quite a success story, having come out of Purdue and knocked around for several years before finding a home with New England.
Ninkovich has 54 total tackles this season, including 42 solo. He is tied for the team lead with eight sacks and has a fumble recovery and an interception that he returned 11 yards for a touchdown in a 43-21 win over Denver.
Clay Harbor (Dwight) is the No. 2 tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, behind Mercedes Lewis. He has 26 receptions for 289 yards, an 11.1 average, and a touchdown but has only one reception for 17 yards over the last four games.
A reason to watch Thursday night’s Tennessee at Jacksonville game: Byron Stingily (Romeoville) is scheduled to start at right tackle for the Titans. It would be his fourth start of the season and eighth of his career.
And finally, defensive lineman Kenneth Boatright (Bolingbrook), who had spent the entire season on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad, was promoted to the active roster for Sunday night’s game at Philadelphia, which the Cowboys won, 38-27.
ISU IN FCS SEMIS
Junior linebacker Pat Meehan (Lincoln-Way East) is the leading tackler at Illinois State, which outscored Eastern Washington, 59-46, in last weekend’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal to advance to Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal at New Hampshire.
Meehan has 42 solo tackles and 56 assists for the Redbirds (12-1). He also has three sacks, an interception that he returned 12 yards and a fumble recovery that he returned four yards.
Sophomore Blake Winkler (Lincoln-Way East) is ISU’s No. 2 quarterback. He has completed 7 of 13 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Other area players on the Redbirds’ roster are senior offensive lineman Tim Wright (Minooka), sophomore linebacker Andre Allen (Bolingbrook), senior fullback Matt Meyers (Plainfield Central) and sophomore defensive back Jarrett Lecas (Lincoln-Way East).
ISU lost only to Northern Iowa, 42-28, in Week 8. The Redbirds got revenge with a 41-21 win in the opening round of the playoffs.
VESPER IN D-II FINAL
Alec Vesper (Minooka) is the No. 2 nose tackle for No. 1-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato, which will face Colorado State-Pueblo for the NCAA Division II title game Saturday in Kansas City. Vesper has played in all 14 game for Mankato (14-0) and has made 24 tackles, including seven solo, 4.5 for loss, with two sacks, and he has scored a safety.
ARMY VS. NAVY
The first season for Jeff Monken (Joliet Central) as head coach of Army ended Saturday when the Black Knights lost to Navy for the 13th consecutive year, 17-10.
Army finished 4-8, but Monken seems to have the Black Knights headed in a good direction. They were in Saturday’s game against their bowl-bound rival from start to finish.
Afterward, Monken told reporters: “I’m certainly disappointed to play as hard as we did and not see our players win, especially the seniors.”
OLD TIMERS BANQUET
For those who have been asking, the featured speaker for the annual Old Timers Baseball Association of Will County banquet – scheduled Jan. 29 at the Clarion (the former Holiday Inn) at Larkin Avenue and Interstate 80 – will be former Cubs and White Sox infielder Scott Fletcher.
Fletcher coached last season with the Atlanta Braves and recently was hired by the Detroit Tigers to be their minor league infield coordinator.
More details on his visit will follow.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.