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New Penn State wide receiver Julian Fleming already earning respect

Feb. 13—Julian Fleming has been at Penn State for a little more than a month and already he's receiving positive reviews.

Fleming, the former Southern Columbia High School star, transferred last month from Ohio State and is expected to be a starting wide receiver and a team leader.

"He's a very good guy," Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Tuesday. "When you come here (as a transfer), the first thing you do is keep your mouth shut and your ears open and go to work and earn everybody's respect.

"I think he has done a really good job with that. I've heard great reports from the strength staff, from the coaches and from the players, which is probably most important."

The 6-2, 210-pound Fleming was the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2020 recruiting class and a two-time Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year who chose Ohio State over Penn State.

He caught 80 passes for 990 yards and seven touchdowns for the Buckeyes while playing behind such wide receivers as Marvin Harrison Jr., Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

Fleming's best season at Ohio State came in 2022 when he made 34 catches for 533 yards and six touchdowns. He had 26 receptions for 270 yards last season.

He helps fill one of Penn State's greatest needs. KeAndre Lambert-Smith was the Lions' leading receiver last year with 53 receptions for 673 yards and four touchdowns, but he had just two catches in the last four games, including none in the Peach Bowl. No other wide receiver had more than 19 catches.

"I think there's familiarity and comfort there, for him and his family," Franklin said about Fleming. "I think there's familiarity and comfort for us. Then obviously his ability to play in this league, I think, is helpful. He kind of understands what this league is about.

"He also has an understanding of the playoffs as well, so I think those things are valuable."

Rucci builds excitement: Former Wisconsin offensive tackle Nolan Rucci, who also enrolled last month, has created excitement among Penn State staff members.

The 6-8, 300-pound Rucci was a standout at Warwick High School in Lancaster County, where he was rated the No. 1 prospect in Pennsylvania in the 2021 recruiting class. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

He played in six games during his Wisconsin career, including three games last season as the No. 2 left tackle behind Jack Nelson. He played almost the entire game for the Badgers in their bowl loss to LSU.

"He played in the bowl game and played really well," Franklin said. "I think that was a big confidence boost for him. For us as coaches, we knew what he was capable of, but there wasn't a whole lot of evidence of it at Wisconsin.

"Him playing in that bowl game was really important for both sides."

Rucci's parents are both former Penn State athletes. Todd Rucci started on the offensive line and went on to play seven seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots. Stacy Rucci was an All-American in field hockey.

"He's skinny because he's all of 6-8," Franklin said. "Being. 6-8 isn't always a positive thing for offensive linemen if you can't bend. But he can really bend. He has tremendous athleticism. He has been great.

"I think there's a lot of excitement with the coaching staff and the strength staff."

New coach introduced: Penn State introduced new special teams coordinator Justin Lustig on Tuesday.

Lustig will coach outside linebackers and "nickel" defensive backs with the Nittany Lions after spending the last three seasons as an assistant at Vanderbilt.

He's an Erie native who was a four-year starter at Bucknell and who served as head coach at Edinboro in 2016.

"Coach (Franklin) has done a wonderful job of tracking younger coaches," Lustig said. "I remember about 10 years ago when he followed me on Twitter, and I thought that was a really cool thing at the time.

"Our relationship goes way back. I've always followed him from afar and rooted for Penn State inside, even though I was at other colleges. So I'm excited to be here and excited to work for him."