New Cyclones running backs coach Louis Ayeni oversaw many successful running backs at Toledo — guys like Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams — and most recently tutored David Fluellen, a departing senior who has a great shot at the NFL after a 2013 campaign in which he led the MAC in yards per carry (6.7) and rushed for 1,121 yards despite missing three games because of injury.
Fluellen was recruited by Ayeni out of Lockport High School in New York and his freshman year with the Rockets coincided with Ayeni's first year on staff. AllCyclones.com recorded a Q&A with Fluellen on Thursday afternoon.
To see our interview with Ayeni, click here
AllCyclones.com: Louis was telling me how natural a runner you were when you arrived at Toledo as a freshman. What did he have to teach you?
Fluellen: "There were some things I needed to polish on. What he really did was set me down and broke it down how to be the best player I could be, to watch film, to try and do the right things on and off the field. Those are things it didn't take any talent to do at all.
"Once I prioritized those things, the other stuff fell on. If I was successful off the field, I would have on-field success, too. I really worked on what I needed to do, what was expected of me. Working to perfect my craft."
Q: You talk about off the field, what sort of role model is Ayeni for you?
Fluellen: "I mean, me and Lou, we both got there at the same time. We were just connected at the hip instantly, because I knew Coach Lou played in the NFL for X amount of years and he played in a big program at Northwestern, and to get where I wanted to be — which was some of the same goals — I just attached myself to him to learn everything about him.
"He was almost like a father figure to me away from home. He helped me become the player I am today and put me in the best situations at all times, on and off the field."
Q: How important is it for young players to have a coach that has a similar background or is near their age? How easy is that to relate to?
Fluellen: "It's just so much easier. Everything we're going through as college students, he's gone through not too much long ago. So it's easy to come to him with problems, on and off the field. Coach Lou is just one of those coaches that would do anything for me.
"He always told the running backs at Toledo, 'Always be responsible for your actions, no matter what happens in life.' If you had a good attitude about things, good things will happen. Bad attitude, bad things will happen. He was one of those guys who came into the office every day to work with a good attitude, and that just rubs off on everybody else in the room."
Q: Share with us a story about when he had to assume a role as a disciplinarian with you.
Fluellen: "A lot of stories" …
Q: What's your best one?
Fluellen: "Being away from home my first year there, parents not there to hold you responsible and be on top of your schoolwork. I wasn't as responsible. We would get progress reports throughout the semester letting us know how we were doing [in the classroom]. I remember I had a couple bad grades.
"That day we got that progress report, he told me to go fix it. He didn't care about football or anything like that. He told me to go fix it. I'm running all around campus, meeting with professors and talking to them, finding out anything I could do to help better my grade.
"This is what you told me: 'Don't accept anything but the best. Don't accept failure. Because once you accept failure, it's going to become easy to do.'
"Since, then, I've never accepted anything less than what I deserve."
Q: Let's talk about you. You're going to get a shot at the NFL. How much better have you gotten since your first year or two at Toledo?
Fluellen: "It's just, each year saw me get better and increase my ability. Coach Lou, he set the standard high for the running backs at Toledo. Each year he'd set the standard higher. It's not a big surprise to me that each running back had so much success, because it really was our running backs coach who held us accountable each day at practice. He set the bar higher each year.
"We had competition, so we got the best out of everybody. The running back room was the biggest part of our team. It's not going to be a surprise to me, wherever he's coaching, like %%MATCH_6%% State, that the running backs there will have so much success instantly because they're going to be workhorses of that team."
Q: When Louis recruited you on an in-home visit, do you remember what you first thought of him?
Fluellen: "I remember he was a young guy and we just sat down with my parents and talked. Everything about him was so relatable. He was young, you feel that vibe with him. He had already been through what I was about to go through. He told me all about his success in college and playing in the next level and I knew that's something I wanted to do, and if he had already done it, that's the guy I needed to be with because he knows what I need to be doing.
"He's a cool guy, always has a smile on his face and just wants the best from each person."