By Stone Freeman
KINGSTON, R.I. - It's a Friday afternoon and Rhode Island football head coach Jim Fleming stands in the middle of the practice fields along West Alumni Avenue. Arms crossed with a slight lean backwards, a whistle hangs around his neck; dark black sunglasses rest along the bridge of his nose and a beige bucket-hat with the words "Rhode Island Football" stitched across the back lies upon his head.
Fleming watches on as his offensive line coach Stefon Wheeler works with a group of 14 of the larger student-athletes in the program.
"Hut!" Wheeler yells. "Now hold!"
All 14 linemen lock in their position. Knees bent and hands out in front of them.
"Let it burn!" Wheeler shouts.
Fleming likes what he sees. He nods his head and reaches for a folded up practice schedule in his left pocket. He unclips a thin, red marker from his lanyard and scribbles a note or two down, then turns and walks away to examine another position group.
"This morning I woke up and said, 'Damn, I don't know if I can do this anymore,'" Fleming said, flashing a wry smile that tells another story.
Truth is, Fleming loves the grind that comes with the dawn of each season. It's the beginning of a new year. It's the opening day of training camp, and Fleming's Rams are getting to work. It's a team effort and grind that everyone has bought into.
An effort that has been spoken into existence.
"It's a relief to get back out here," Fleming said. "Our coaches feel the same way, and our kids love the game. This is a day we look forward to."
The Rams are still in their "pajamas" as Fleming puts it, no pads just helmets, jerseys, gym shorts and cleats. The attire might say August, but the mindset on the first day says November. There are some new faces but the team's overall goals remain the same: to win and to get better.
"We got a clean slate," Fleming said. "We're undefeated. We have our goals and our plan to attain those goals, which is to win a CAA Championship. Now it's just monotonous drudgery you have to embrace as a player to get through days like this."
This is training camp number 34 for Fleming as a coach, and his sixth as the head coach of the Rams. Over the last half decade, he's changed the culture in Kingston and has laid the foundation for success. However, success doesn't stop for Fleming's Rams when a goal is reached. Success is a gained and earned every day. Success is a mindset and it all starts in training camp.
"The goal is to put ourselves in all situations where the work ethic is habit and the execution is habit," Fleming said. "The things we work on in training camp is the foundation we are able to take from the first game all the way through. We refocus the team on getting better each week. Each day we want to get better."
With the culture and mindset have come positive results on and off the field. What once was only spoken of has now become action. 2018 brought the program's first winning season in nearly two decades, and to start the 2019 season Meade Stadium has received a facelift with the installation of synthetic turf and stadium lighting.
The culture has grown and Fleming hopes it continues to infect the University community and campus.
"We have a campus that is blossoming and we're adding a football field which will be centerpiece for this campus for five Saturdays," Fleming said. "A beautifully constructed field that ties into the overall resurgence of our commitment at our University to football."
A progressive mindset often walks hand-in-hand with reflection. Fleming knows that his program's goals and the positive outcomes all began well before the first day of 2019 training camp. But his players' actions have spoken louder than anybody's words.
"We see relatively the same kids who walked in four years ago achieving what we set their sights on," Fleming said. "Go out, prepare and play and good things will happen."
Success on the Mind as Fleming Opens Sixth Season at the Helm
By Stone Freeman