Hurricanes fans may have been surprised when they saw freshman running back Mark Fletcher Jr. break tackles on his way to the end zone to score the game-winning touchdown against Virginia in overtime on Saturday
Miami safety James Williams was not.
The Hurricanes junior defensive back was teammates with Fletcher at American Heritage in 2020. Fletcher, a sophomore that season, rushed for more than 1,400 yards, helping American Heritage win a state title and earning Sun Sentinel Broward County small schools offensive player of the year honors (he would earn the same award as a senior, too). Now he is showcasing his talents in orange and green.
“I wasn’t surprised by Mark Fletcher at all,” Williams said. “He’s one of those guys in high school, he was walking over to me, ‘Yo, let’s go win this game. Let’s go do it.’ He was telling coach Pat (Surtain) … ‘Give me the ball. Give me the ball.’ He was getting the ball 40 times, 50 times a game. This right here is nothing new to me.”
Fletcher’s numbers for the season so far may not seem overly impressive. He has 35 carries for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But the freshman has shown his teammates his capabilities.
“Mark Fletcher — it’s probably no surprise — is a playmaker,” linebacker Francisco Mauigoa said. “He runs hard. He knows where to hit the gap, and he’ll come down full speed. He don’t stop his feet. He don’t get tackled on the first tackle. He’s just a playmaker. He’s smart and very mature and he could play at a high level. He’s got a really high ceiling.”
The freshman running back missed the Hurricanes’ last three games due to a stress fracture in one of his feet and returned for UM’s win over Virginia. He ran for 47 yards on 11 carries. The Hurricanes called his number on three straight plays in overtime, and he delivered with a 9-yard run and a 5-yard run before scoring from 11 yards out to win the game.
Fletcher said after the game that he did not know he would be the one carrying the team in overtime until running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. told him he was in for the drive.
“He said, ‘Come on, 22,'” Fletcher said. “So when my number’s called, I’ve just got to make a play, and thank God I did.”
Miami coach Mario Cristobal credited return-to-play specialist Joe Girardi with helping Fletcher get back to his full capabilities quickly.
“(Fletcher) looked good,” Cristobal said.” He looked good in practice. … It was no surprise that he picked up right where he left off before he was hurt.”
The Hurricanes coach added that he thinks the “sky’s the limit” for Fletcher.
The walk-off touchdown was the first big moment of the freshman’s college career. He celebrated after his post-game press conference with hugs from family members who were in attendance on Saturday.
“This is what I dreamed of as a kid,” Fletcher said. “It’s crazy I did it.”
But Fletcher is still a freshman working his way into Miami’s running back rotation. Williams expects his former and current teammate to do in the future could be even more impressive.
“Imagine when he really gets comfortable,” Williams said. “This is just now. He’s getting his feet wet. Wait till he really simmers down and can be Mark Fletcher for real. That kid’s a problem.”