Last November, Justin Flack was flying high.
The senior running back played a large role in Derry Area High School’s first WPIAL championship appearance.
Although Derry fell to powerhouse Alliquppia at Heinz Field, the road ahead looked promising for Flack when he committed to play at Mt. Union, the kingpin of NCAA Division III football.
Not even two weeks into his freshman year, however, Flack “felt lost” at Mt. Union. Before he could say “Go Raiders,” Flack enrolled at Waynesburg University.
Now, wins are hard to come by.
Although Flack has shot up the depth chart like a rocket; third-stringer week two, starter by week four— his team has been losing. The Yellow Jackets are 1-7, and with perennial powers Case Western Reserve and Washington & Jefferson scheduled to close out the season, it won’t be easy for Waynesburg to win another game in 2019.
“He’s not happy, [with the record],” running backs coach Russ Moore said. “None of us are happy.”
But Flack doesn’t regret his decision. At Mt. Union, Flack would have been low on the depth chart as a freshman, and likely only would have seen the field during garbage time. At Waynesburg, he’s already No. 1 on the chart and is making the most of his opportunity.
Flack has rushed for 562 yards on the season despite spending the first three weeks as a backup. He recently became the first Waynesburg back to run for 100 or more yards in consecutive starts since 2015, doing so against Grove City and St. Vincent. Individually, things are coming together for Flack. Collectively, however, turning the ship around will take more time, and Flack understands that.
“We’re not a championship team right now, and we know that,” he said. “We’re in rebuilding mode, and we’re just trying to rebuild each year and change the culture each year.”
On the Radar
Although Flack didn’t come to Waynesburg straight out of high school, he was somebody that Moore and head coach Chris Smithley pursued heavily during that senior year at Derry.
“We recruited him pretty hard,” Smithley said. “We had him on campus, spent a lot of time with him. We were relentless for Justin.”
Relentless as it may have been, Waynesburg didn’t sell Flack right away. When Flack got to Mt. Union, however, something was off.
“Something just didn’t feel right for me,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but something just didn’t feel right.”
Flack came to Waynesburg Aug. 20. Classes started Aug. 26, and the first game of the season was Aug. 31.
In the season opener against Muskingum, Flack didn’t play at all. In week two at Westminster, he gained 62 yards on 18 carries. In the home opener against Bethany, he only touched the ball seven times, but picked up 72 yards, with 59 coming on his first collegiate touchdown run. At Geneva, he got the start and hasn’t looked back since.
“He’s earned every carry that he’s got,” Smithley said. “He’s earned every play that he’s played on Saturdays.”
“The Fight in the Dog”
“If you met Justin Flack in the cafeteria,” Moore said, “you wouldn’t think he was a football player.”
At just 5’7 and 175 pounds, Flack is smaller than the average athlete. Along with his somewhat diminutive physical stature, however, Flack doesn’t have the boisterous personality that many athletes possess.
“He’s very quiet, very shy, not very outspoken,” Moore said. “Football players have a tendency to be sort of different [from Flack].”
Flack doesn’t worry about his size, however, and he doesn’t feel the need to talk a big game. All he wants to do is compete.
“I don’t think of myself as 5’7, 170 pounds,” he said, “I just go out there and I play the game. It’s the same game I’ve been playing my whole life.”
“It’s not the size of the dog,” Moore said. “But the fight in the dog.”
“Back on the map”
Physically, Moore used typical coach speak to describe how Flack can improve over the next three years.
“He needs to get in the weight room,” Moore said. “That’s a really big thing. He needs to get a little more meat on his body. I think he’s going to bring those things to us.”
Mentally, the coaching staff loves Flack’s competitive nature. At the same time, however, Moore feels he can be his own worst enemy at times.
“Sometimes his biggest problem is he’s his biggest critic,” Moore said. “He’s too hard on himself, and he thinks every play should be a touchdown. He doesn’t understand that that doesn’t happen at this level.”
Flack said he doesn’t have any specific individual goals over the next three years.
Whether he becomes a 1,000-yard rusher or is relegated to the scout team, all that matters to Flack is that Waynesburg becomes a winner. Here, Flack has a chance that he wouldn’t have had at Mount Union. A chance to be a part of a turnaround.
“I want us to get to that championship level, winning the PAC,” Flack said. “But I think the biggest thing is, I want to be a part of changing this culture here and putting Waynesburg back on the map.”