Cardinals hope punter's success is not Fleeting

From Sept. 30, 2000, game program

By Chris McManes
CUA Sports Information Director

Remember the 1970s TV show, "The Six Million Dollar Man?" The intro to each episode portrayed Lee Majors' character Steve Austin being rebuilt with bionic parts: "We can rebuild him. We can make him better than he was before."

That appears to be what happened to Catholic University junior punter Mike Fleet. About five months after having the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee replaced, Fleet leads the nation in punting with a 45.4-yard average.

"Mike Fleet has worked very, very hard. It's an unbelievable recovery from ACL surgery," Cardinal Coach Tom Clark said. "It's almost a miraculous recovery. And to lead the nation along with that, we're wondering what Dr. (David Higgins) might have done with that surgery. "I think he made the leg bionic."

What Fleet has done - without bionics - is work hard at rehabilitation and keep himself in better condition.

"I've consistently lifted every week, which I stopped doing last year," said Fleet, who averaged 37.6 yards last season and 36.4 yards as a freshman. "I do a lot more pool workouts. And my work ethic is different before practices in terms of cardiovascular training and drills I do."

Fleet, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound financial management major, began 2000 by averaging 49.8 yards on four kicks at John Carroll University. His day included a career-high 63-yard boot, four yards better than his previous best.

"We're trying to find ourselves offensively right now and it's nice to know on fourth down that when you put the punter in there, he's going to do an exceptional job," Clark said. "Playing the field-position game really means a lot."

Fleet injured his knee in last year's intramural basketball playoffs. He was driving to the basket late in the game when he was fouled and his knee buckled. He finished the game, not realizing the severity of the injury until the next morning.

During his April 12 surgery, Fleet's completely torn ACL was replaced with a tendon from his knee. He began rehabilitation the next day and continued doing so three times a week for three months. It wasn't until two weeks before the start of preseason camp that he knew for sure he'd be able to play this year. Fleet still experiences some pain in the knee and estimates he is 90 percent healed. He said he is overwhelmed to lead all NCAA Division III punters.

"It's always been a dream to be on top," Fleet said. "Hopefully I can keep it going throughout the season. The key to punting is consistency. As far as my work ethic is concerned, it's consistent every week with lifting and punting."

Fleet attended the National Kicking Service camp for two years (1997-98) in Westminster, Md., and worked as a counselor there last summer. Paul McCord, his punting coach, coaches special teams and wide receivers at Western Maryland College and went to camp as a punter with the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.

Fleet came to CUA after graduating from Good Counsel High in Wheaton, Md. He played middle linebacker on the freshman team, was a starting wide receiver under current Cardinal offensive line coach Dan Hickson the next year and then averaged 39.8 yards a punt as a senior, while also playing wideout. Fleet has completed 4 of 4 passes out of punt formation at CUA, including two for first downs at Albright two years ago.

Said Clark: "Mike is a very composed, competitive guy. He's quite savvy on top of being very talented."