C’Bo Flemister followed his blockers and barreled into the closed-end end zone of what was then Heinz Field in 2020, pushing Notre Dame’s lead to 42 points late in the third quarter. It was a 45-3 beatdown at the hands of the Irish.
Following Joey Yellen’s third interception of the game, Yellen starting in place of the injured Kenny Pickett, Flemister capped a short drive with a touchdown, and for most Pitt fans, that was likely it. The game was switched off and scrubbed from memory. But for those who remember, Flemister is now a familiar name.
Flemister himself remembers the game now for one reason, the beatdown he took physically from Pitt’s defense during the course of the game.
“So, I actually played against Pitt in 2020,” Flemister said Monday. “I scored against them, but we really beat them pretty badly. They had a third-string quarterback in. But on the flight back, all we could say was, ‘We’re sore. And that team beat us up.’ The scoreboard didn’t show it.”
Notre Dame would go on to make the College Football Playoff in 2020, losing to eventual national champion Alabama, and it was Flemister’s best season with the Irish. With 58 carries for 299 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns, he served as ND’s fourth-leading rusher. While the 2021 season didn’t go according to plan, not even finishing the season in South Bend, In., he found a fresh start in Pittsburgh.
And now that he sees Pitt’s defense every single day in practice, he relishes the opportunity to get better — to reach levels he didn’t think possible — in Pittsburgh.
“These athletes out here are just different,” Flemister said. “And that’s coming from Notre Dame, I’ve played with the best athletes, the top athletes, and coming out here with these guys, I’m like, ‘Whoa, it may be even more stocked.'”
Flemister visited Pittsburgh in June, committing a little later on June 19, and he arrived at Pitt just recently — after graduating from Notre Dame. He arrived only a couple of days before training camp began, so he hasn’t had all that much of a chance to see the city, but he has been helped by fellow ND transfer Shayne Simon — his current roommate. When it comes to the fit though, Flemister feels like it’s exactly what he signed up for.
“The facilities, program, the coaches, the culture, I think I came in and fit right in,” Flemister said. “It’s really a pro atmosphere. And that was part of the reason why I chose Pitt. Not only is it just a just a prestigious school and historical school, we’re sitting right here by the Steelers. It’s just this pro atmosphere going on, especially being in a city, I think there’s a level of maturity you have to have being here. I really looked at it as like a prequel to where I want to be. So, I feel like this is a fantastic atmosphere for getting ready.”
With Israel Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond Jr. and Vincent Davis all returning as Pitt’s clear-cut starting trio last season, it may surprise some people that Flemister chose to enter such a crowded room, but that’s exactly why he decided to do it. He watched film on all three running backs, liked what he saw and felt like Pitt was the place to be going forward.
“I’ll be honest, that made me happier,” Flemister said. “I feel like I’m a good back, I need to be around good backs. That’s gonna push me to be even better. So, that was big. I feel like having the three returners come back really made me want to come even more. I mean, I’m a competitor at heart. I feel I wouldn’t have been doing myself justice to go somewhere where I just stepped into a role where, you know, like, I’m automatically the man. I feel like that just it’s not, you know, it’s not as much substance there.”
When it comes to competing for playing time in 2022, he said it’s all up to himself. He gets as much playing time as he earns. And that was exactly what he wanted to hear. Flemister acknowledged that he could’ve dropped a level or two to immediately become the guy, but that’s not him. He didn’t want that. And when looking at the NFL level, with the way running back by committee approaches have emerged, he saw a fit in Pittsburgh.
At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, having racked up 471 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 110 attempts (4.3 yards per attempt), and adding 49 yards on three receptions over four seasons at Notre Dame, Flemister still has national championship aspirations. And with Pitt being loaded ‘offensively and defensively,’ he’s feeling good about his new teammates — especially those teammates in the running backs room.
When it comes to his own game, besides the maturity that’s been mentioned by head coach Pat Narduzzi, Flemister pointed to his balance as a key factor. He’s able to take hits well, absorb the contact and stay on his feet, but he said it’s tough to point to just one individual area he’s able to contribute going forward. Narduzzi spoke highly of Flemister last week.
“I think (Flemister’s) a tough, hard runner,” Narduzzi said last Wednesday. “He’s athletic, and I’ve been impressed with what he’s done out here the last couple of days learning the new playbook.”
When it comes to Pitt’s running backs room though, Flemister said he feels like every member has their own areas where they excel. Abanikanda has crazy speed, Davis is able to absorb hits like Flemister is and it’s just a room where everyone offers a little bit of everything.
Flemister said he definitely isn’t as fast as Abanikanda, his ‘wheels’ come courtesy of his high hips, but he feels like he’s well-rounded. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a little bit of burst though, and as he gets his feet back under him, after nearly 10 months training by himself, he feels like the sky is the limit.
“I think I’m right with everyone else,” Flemister said. “And one thing that I’ve really been harping on is I didn’t have the time to do summer training. I didn’t have the spring training. So, what I’m doing is, I’ll stay after every day. I do extra runs in the weight room when we get done. I do extra. I come in in the morning, I do extra, because I’m not looking at it as I’m trying to — of course, you’re trying to outwork everyone, but also trying to set an example. But also, for me, I feel like I’m playing catch up, so I have to go the extra mile. I have to do extra. I just have to keep pushing myself.”
After a week of training camp, Flemister surprised himself, finding himself in a better spot than he assumed he’d be in, but there’s another level to reach. And in the lead up to the Backyard Brawl opening the season on Sept. 1, and maybe even until a week or so after, Flemister is going to continue to push himself to the limit. After that point, he’ll start to pull back a bit, but that’s still a little ways away. And the end of the season is a ways away too. Which makes Monday’s coaches’ poll ranking irrelevant.
“We’re trying to be one and oh every week,” Flemister said. “Wherever we end up at the end of the year, that’s when we’ll worry about it.”