Goss: Coby Fleener back at Soldier Field with Colts
September 7, 2012 9:22PM
Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener. | AP photo
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:21AM
The last time Coby Fleener played a football game at Soldier Field was in 2006, and it marked the beginning of his coming-out party.
In the opening game of his senior season at Joliet Catholic, Fleener caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from John Ruettiger. That represented the Hilltoppers’ only score in a 13-6 loss to rival Mount Carmel.
Until that season, Fleener envisioned himself a basketball player, and he was a good one. But his real future was on the gridiron.
After previously not being a major factor in football, he finished that senior season with 34 receptions for 706 yards, an eye-catching 20.8 average, and eight touchdowns. At 6-foot-6, he had the speed to run away from defenders.
Stanford noticed, offering Fleener, also an excellent student, a scholarship. While with the Cardinal, Fleener put on weight and muscle without losing his quickness. As a tight end, he teamed for several years with quarterback Andrew Luck, and he prospered in that relationship.
Fleener enjoyed a huge Orange Bowl game before a national television audience his junior season, when he caught six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford’s blowout win over Virginia Tech. Then as a senior, he was named The Sporting News’ first-team All-America tight end.
He also projected as a high NFL draft pick in June, and in fact was selected by the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of Round 2. Luck was the Colts’ No. 1 pick, and the No. 1 overall selection.
The 252-pound Fleener reportedly had a good training camp. His blocking, the area of his game that perhaps needed the most work, has been progressing.
This is the first Sunday of the NFL season, and the Colts are at Soldier Field to take on the Bears in Fleener’s first appearance at the stadium on the lake front since the 2006 Mount Carmel game. Fleener, who signed a four-year contract with Indianapolis and is listed as the starter at tight end, will have family and friends in the stands, among them his Joliet Catholic coach, Dan Sharp.
“My brother Pat was able to get tickets, so I’ll be fortunate enough to be there,” Sharp said. “I’m a Bears fan, but not now when they’re playing the Colts.
“It’s always great to see your alums doing well, whether it’s in athletics or otherwise. Coby is a special football player and a special young man. He does Joliet Catholic proud the way he presents himself and the way he plays. We’re so honored that he was part of our program.”
As for this game, Sharp said, “I really hope Coby can catch another 75-yarder like he did against Mount Carmel.”
If that happens, Sharp may have to go a little crazy, which may not be the best idea, sitting among all those Bears fans.
“I may have to be cheering for him on the inside,” Sharp said with a laugh.
With Fleener, who wears No. 80, facing the Bears, I thought about Joliet Catholic graduate Tom Thayer, the Bears radio color commentator and the right guard from the Super Bowl XX championship team. Naturally, Thayer is a huge Bears fan besides being one of the best analysts in the business.
One thing he never has forgotten is his roots in Joliet and at Joliet Catholic. He has been one of the Hilltoppers’ biggest supporters ever since he graduated in 1979 and moved on to Notre Dame. You have to believe he won’t mind Fleener doing a little something special, especially if the Bears are able to take care of business otherwise and walk away with the victory they are expected to get.
McMahon at Brown & Gold
The cover story in the most recent Sports Illustrated entitled “The Women Behind The Retired NFL Men Who Suffer From Brain Trauma” features three former NFL stars.
One is former Bears quarterback and Thayer teammate Jim McMahon. His girlfriend, Lauri Navon, details the changes she began noticing in McMahon in 2007, before he was diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Against that backdrop, University of St. Francis has announced McMahon will be the featured speaker for the 36th annual Brown & Gold Night on Oct. 18 at the Patrick J. Sullivan Recreation Center.
McMahon was selected by the Bears fifth overall in the 1982 draft out of Brigham Young and became one of the most controversial stars in the NFL. His style on and off the field attracted attention from corporations such as Coca-Cola, Boost Mobile, Honda, Kraft, Adidas, Taco Bell and Burger King.
McMahon played 15 seasons, with the Bears, San Diego, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Arizona, Cleveland and Green Bay. He has two Super Bowl rings, a Pro Bowl appearance and a comeback player of the year award on his resume. He also is active in charities.
So you can add another huge sports figure to the many who have graced the USF athletic fundraiser, which will begin with a cash bar at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. and program at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $50 and reserved tables for $500 also can be purchased by calling (815) 740-3842.