Naperville Central WR Fleurima striving to set good examples on and off the field
We all need role models in our lives.
Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins.
But an exemplary teammate can also help turn young men and women into outstanding citizens by demonstrating high-end work ethic, next-level competitiveness, compassion and kindness for all.
Naperville Central High School students are fortunate to have an outstanding example to follow in Justin Wegner, who graduated in 2015 and passed away from a rare type of cancer in 2019.
"There's a million things written about how tremendous of a kid Justin Wegner was," said first-year NCHS head football coach Mike Ulreich, whose team opens its season at Hinsdale Central on Friday. "That's what we want our kids to emulate."
Doing his best to follow in Wegner's footsteps is senior wide receiver/linebacker Reggie Fleurima.
Blessed with raw power and the ability to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, Fleurima caught 20 passes for 380 yards and 6 TDs for the 6-0 Redhawks last spring.
Now Fleurima, who committed to Northwestern in March, will see if he can help Naperville Central navigate a tough, demanding schedule en route to a playoff berth.
Like Wegner before him, Fleurima sets the bar awfully high for his teammates. He'll do it vocally if someone is out of line or if they need a pointer, but it's Fleurima's attention to detail that stuns his teammates.
Nothing is at half-speed or half-effort. Everything -- a warmup rep in the weight room, a route in practice or paying attention to game plans or video -- is done with absolute maximum effort.
"When other guys usually go through the motions, Reggie's always focused and tuned in," said running back and good friend Niko Gordon. "It's weird to watch, but it sets a great example for everybody else. Other people will see him do it and everyone -- including myself -- naturally follow in his footsteps to try and do exactly what he's doing."
Fleurima credits his dad, who was a defensive lineman for Notre Dame from 1991-95, with instilling this attitude at an early age.
"If you're going to do something, you're either all in or all out," said Fleurima, who started playing organized football in kindergarten. "I don't want to look back and think, 'I could have done this better or I could have put in more effort or more time.' ...
"There are days where you wake up and go, 'Man, I really don't want to do this.' You've got to think long term -- if you work hard it's going to pay off."
Fleurima followed in his dad's footsteps at first by playing as a lineman, then moved to quarterback in fifth grade. He suffered a broken wrist in seventh grade, however, and became a full-time wide receiver the next season.
That injury opened the door for Owen Prucha, who took over at quarterback and is set to begin his second season under center for the Redhawks. Fleurima, Prucha and Gordon cemented their bond with plenty of sleep overs in middle school. They love fishing together -- Prucha saying he's better than Fleurima, a newbie to angling -- and also love to perfect their craft by playing pickup games or just by throwing and catching passes outside of practice.
Prucha and Gordon said the uber-focused Fleurima may seem serious to many, but there's another side to him as well.
"When you get to know him and you're friends with him, he's a funny dude," Prucha said. "He's hilarious and fun to be around. He's a good friend -- he's there for you."
That's definitely the case on the field, where Fleurima will be expected to play WR and linebacker early on with NCHS opening against three difficult foes. Those schools -- if they don't know it already -- will quickly find out why the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder figures to be such a headache offensively.
"He's a hard guy to tackle and he can run by you," Ulreich said. "He's a vertical threat, but also if he catches a quick pass in the slot you're going to have to tackle him, which is a hard task too."
As much as Fleurima wants to be there for his teammates, he also wants to be there for the entire student body at NCHS.
That's exactly the legacy Wegner left after graduating five years ago. A standout baseball and football player, Wegner was diagnosed with Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor Sarcoma in 2016.
Early on in Wegner's treatments, when NCHS was raising money to help offset some of the costs, a student handed $100 to Barry Baldwin, a communication arts teacher at NCHS.
"Most kids are giving $5 or $2," said Baldwin, who said this senior girl was someone he'd never met. "I said, 'This is a lot of money. Are you sure you want to do this?'
"She said, 'Yes. When I was a freshman, Justin was the only person that would talk to me -- and he was a senior. He would say hi to me in the halls and he sat by me at lunch.'
"That's what this girl thought of Justin. That's just the type of kid he was."
This is exactly how Fleurima wants to be remembered.
"We were just going over what happened to Justin in our little theater and it really hit me -- the impact that kid left on people," Fleurima said. "I want to be like that. I want to be the kid that people can come to and be comfortable around and help out.
"I always try to shake my teacher's hand and say thank you every day. ... That's just the way I go about it. Treat people how you want to be treated. That goes a long way.
"When I'm gone I just want people in the halls of Naperville Central to know me as, obviously, a football player, but also a kid who had good class and character."