Trio of Warriors Guide Macalester Scots ‘Braveheart’ Defense
Not since William Wallace and Robert the Bruce took to the battlefield to free Scotland from the rule of England have three men shown as much courage and maturity in battle as Ryan and Konnor Fleming and Jole Miller. Ok, that is a little overdramatic for sure, but the reality is that these three men have helped to form one of the most stout defense’s that Macalester College has ever seen in their 100-plus year history, and have helped to make this a top-two defense in the Midwest Conference (MWC). They not only have shown great character and skill on the field, but have also proven to be three men that anyone would be happy to call friend, brother, neighbor, even son-in-law.
While all three come from small towns, Ryan and Konnor from Charlotte, VT and Jole from Missouri Valley, IA, they have all come to Macalester College looking to flourish and grow as men; men that make a difference in society, on and off the field. Konnor is a psychology major, who hopes one day to become a sports psychologist. His younger brother Ryan is seeking bachelor’s degrees in both biochemistry and the Classics. While not exactly sure what he wants to do with his life yet, he is leaning toward working in the chemistry field or attending medical school. Jole is a religious studies major, who has added minors in the Classics and sociology as well. He is looking to further his education by going to graduate school to focus on New Testament studies and could see himself as a professor one day.
Clearly the three are extremely intelligent, and what makes them so dangerous for opposing offenses is that they take that intelligence and use it to sniff out plays, to get into position to make tackles, and to read offensive schemes before the ball is snapped. Each has an incredible football I.Q., and this shows in the fact that they are 1-2-3 in tackles on the team. Ryan leads the Scots with 37, which he openly admits is to be expected considering that he plays linebacker in a defense designed for him to make tackles. ‘My job just naturally takes me to the play,” he offers modestly. That may be true, but once there he is a beast to block, and has a warrior’s mentality that makes him tackle a ball-carrier with the same veracity that a bear hugs its opponent in combat.
The scheme of the Scots defense may benefit the linebacker, but his coach, Tony Jennison, knows his ability as a player is a lot more than schemes and design. “Ryan has a non-stop motor. He is always in the play, and even when he gets out of position, he hustles to get himself right back in. He is a fearless competitor.”
While the defense may be schemed to get the younger Fleming brother into position to make plays, this is not the case for either safety Jole Miller or for cornerback Konnor Fleming. These two are second and third on the team in tackles respectively, and this is where their intelligence aids the two in reading plays and getting themselves into position to make stops. Jole is second on the team and eighth in the conference in tackles, and he credits his intelligence as one of the key weapons in his arsenal to make plays. “I know safeties aren’t supposed to make a lot of tackles, but I think my ability to instinctively read plays and get to the ball helps me to be involved.”
This is a sentiment that his coach could not possibly agree with more. “Jole is an incredibly bright young man, who just sees things almost in slow motion. His pre-snap reads are what makes him so special, as he seems to know exactly where the ball is going before the play even begins.”
For the older Fleming brother, his modesty about his skill is what adds to his prowess on the field. Konnor is third on the team in tackles, which is quite extraordinary for a cornerback, who is most frequently running away from the play covering a receiver. Yet the senior remains active at the line of scrimmage, and is more than happy to attack a running back to make a play for his team. “Guys are confident in the three of us, and we trust in them as well. It is important for me, as a player, that I do my job to ensure that others can do theirs.”
The cornerback has done his job, making 19 tackles to put him third on the team, but this is where the humility of Konnor really shines forth. Most players would bask in the glory of a number like that, knowing they were making a contribution that most other cornerbacks could not imagine providing, but not this senior. Instead of reveling in his success, he envisions a higher standard for himself. “It is great that I am putting up these numbers, but I would really like to see those tackles become pass defenses and eventually become interceptions.”
It is clear that Konnor not only takes seriously his responsibilities as a player, but that he embraces the leadership role he has on the team as well. His coach is more than happy to praise his senior cornerback for the leadership that he shows. “Konnor is a guy that as a coach you can always count on. He gets guys motivated, he ensures that everyone is committed to their assignment, he leads not only in his words, but in his actions as well.” The most special part of the senior is that when he had a chance to hear his coach’s assessment of him, it brought a genuine display of near disbelief. “Wow, I am humbled that he would describe me that way. That means a great deal coming from him.”
Leadership. This is something that each player takes very seriously in their own way. While Konnor is the more vocal of the three, each understands that they have a special place on the team, which means they have added responsibilities as men to carry forth. For Jole this has been something that comes natural having a younger brother who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older brother. “My coaches and my dad pointed out to me early on that the littler kids were watching me,” he reflects. “That meant I needed to be a good role model for them. I have just brought that same attitude here. I think when guys see me as a senior working hard and giving my all, they feel that they should to.”
This is a sentiment that Ryan could not agree with more. “I feel it is important to lead by example, to hustle and play hard, not only in games, but at practice as well. It also means carrying that responsibility off the field, not skipping class or getting into trouble. When the younger players see that, they know if we are doing it, they better do it too.”
For Konnor the role as a leader has meant making some changes in the culture of the program. He points out that when he arrived at Macalester as a freshman three years ago there wasn’t as strong a fellowship between the upper classmen and the newcomers. This was something he and other players took upon themselves to change. “I try to put myself out there to get to know the new guys on the team. There is no class division or hierarchy here. We are all one team, and it is not surprising to see a group of four guys eating together or hanging out and there would be one guy from each class.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the three was their genuine commitment to their teammates. While they all acknowledge that success has something to do with the record of the team on the field, they also recognize that their own success comes in giving to their teammates and watching them thrive as well. Jole pointed out that his love he has for his teammates makes him want to give it all each and every time he hits the field, and Ryan added that it is not just for himself that he is playing this game. “Every week I get emails and texts from my family and friends wishing me luck and telling me they will be cheering for me. It makes me want to do my best for them and for the guys around me knowing they care so much.”
Inspiration. This is what may be the most special part of all three. These three young men find inspiration in a wide variety of ways to motivate themselves to play hard and to give their best on the field, but all three agree that they want to be men who inspire others as well. All three recognize that their actions affect those around them, both on the field and off. All push themselves to excel in the way they chase down a running back, and in the way that they study for exams or work on an assignment. They are men who have taken the mantra of their coach to build good relationships and have given their hearts to their fans, to their classmates, to their coaches and to their friends to embrace that call.
When the Knox College Prairie Fire’s offense takes the field on Saturday, there is no doubt that these three have every intention of turning that Fire offense into a smoldering heap of rubble. They will play hard and attack opposing players with the spirit of a warrior. However, it would not be a surprise to see these same men, who were at war with the Prairie Fire for three hours, then turn to those same opponents and embrace them and wish them well.
We live in a society where too often the “older” generations worry about those leaving college. There is a fear that this new generation of young men and women graduating from colleges and universities will not have what it takes to change the world for the better. After talking to these three men, even for just a short period of time, there is one thing that is clear: if even 10 percent of students who graduate today have as much character and drive as Jole Miller, Ryan Fleming and Konnor Fleming, the world has a bright future ahead indeed.
The Macalester Scots “Braveheart” defense will play hard on Saturday, of that there is no doubt. Fans can also be sure that their trio of defensive standouts will accept nothing less from their teammates, because they will be giving their all. These three men are taking their skill, their intelligence and their desire to the field, and will be doing all they can to will their team to victory. Whether they win or not we will also see that they model class and sportsmanship with the same genuineness that they do everything else. So pay attention. Jole Miller, Ryan Fleming and Konnor Fleming are about to teach America what a great future it has.
By Robert Pannier
Read Rob’s other Macalester Scots Focus Stories on…
Coach Tony Jennison
Running Back Zandy Stowell and Quarterback Samson Bialostok