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Fast-rising Fleck a young recruiting star

Tommy Mister has sat down with coaches from the Big Ten and the Big 12. He has talked with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, a YouTube star for Oscar-worthy locker room monologues.

Yet the coach that most impressed the Chicago St. Rita athlete, one who holds offers from Notre Dame, Iowa State and others, was Western Michigan’s. Mister met new Broncos coach P.J. Fleck on a visit last weekend.

“I’ve met Kelly, [Tim] Beckman from Illinois, Rhoads, [Kevin] Wilson from Indiana, I’ve talked to a bunch of coaches,” Mister said, “but nobody got me going like he did in that short amount of time.

“... I wanted to commit, no joke.”

Hired as Western Michigan’s coach in December at just 32 years old, Fleck is the youngest coach in major college football. He’s brash when it comes to his new program, not afraid to compete with the big BCS boys when it comes to recruiting. Fleck’s philosophy is simple. He doesn’t see his age as help or hindrance. Whether 32-years-old or 55, winning recruiting battles, he says, comes down to two other letters.

“No matter what age you are, I believe in the two Es in recruiting: energy and experience,” Fleck said.

The energy is clearly there. Fleck has Mister believing Western Michigan is the next Boise State, and offered linebacker Jared Wangler said Fleck’s “confidence is contagious” and the Broncos are a school he is now high on.

With only seven years as an assistant coach under his belt, though, on the surface it would seem Fleck lacks that same experience that is so vital to his recruiting foundation. The last four BCS national championship coaches -- Nick Saban, Gene Chizik, Urban Meyer and Les Miles -- all spent at least 15 years as an assistant coach.

And while Fleck acknowledges even he was surprised to get a head coaching gig so quickly, he is quick to point out experience is about what’s been accomplished and not how long it took him to do it.

Following a two-year NFL career, he began as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2006 before going to his alma mater, Northern Illinois. He was the Huskies’ recruiting coordinator in 2009, putting together a class that helped lead Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl this past January. His last stop before Western Michigan was as receivers coach for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he coached Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson to a career best 1,384 yards and a league-high 19.2 yards per catch average.

That season in Tampa, Fleck said, is the difference in experience he believes gives his program an edge over other coaches who have already been at the college ranks decades.

“It’s our job to show our players the only logo you need to worry about is the NFL logo,” Fleck said. “If you’re worrying about a logo in college but you’ll sit on the bench for four or five years, you’ll have the wrong logo on your hat.

“... I’ve been where [recruits] sat. I was King of the Toos -- too small, too short. I’ve been there, done that, and you can make it in the NFL as a 5-9, 180, 4.8 40 guy. I made it.”

Recruits like Mister dream of eventually playing in the NFL, so when Fleck tells prospects he has sat in an NFL draft room as a coach and in positional meetings as a player, they listen.

“I’m playing for a guy that’s been around and knows the ropes in the NFL,” Mister said. “You want to make that dream come true, and, with a head coach like him, there’s not much he can’t do to help.”

Fleck and the Western Michigan staff are sending out dozens of offers and high school players and coaches are taking notice. The heavy lifting still needs to be done, though, which means little time for R&R and more time for E&E pitches.