FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Mark Fletcher lost his final high school football game Friday night in heartbreaking fashion, and his top priority when the game was over was to find the freshman who lost the fumble on his team’s final possession. He just wanted to console him.
“One mistake — that doesn’t define you as a player,” said Fletcher, who ran for 106 yards and a touchdown and did his best to console talented freshman receiver Malachi Toney, who was distraught after Plantation American Heritage’s fourth-quarter rally fell short in a 38-31 to national powerhouse Miami Central in Florida’s Class 2M state championship game.
“He’s one of the best freshmen I’ve ever seen. Three more years? He’s going to dominate. Don’t let that mistake bother you. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but everybody grew here tonight. Football is a small part of life. We all stick together. We’re all a family. That’s it.”
Fletcher, a former Ohio State commitment and All-American, has always run like a man among boys. He used his 6-1, 225-pound frame to bulldoze his way to 4,439 yards and 49 touchdowns on 576 carries over 45 games and four varsity seasons. The way he speaks and leads his teammates, though, gives off the impression he’s a 22-year-old senior in college and not an 18-year-old senior in high school.
On Wednesday, Fletcher, the No. 242 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite, will sign a national letter of intent with either Miami or Florida. Wherever he goes, he’s expected to be able to contribute pretty quickly.
“Big and bad and strong and as good as we’ve got in this state,” said Dwight Thomas, who coached the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, in high school and watched Fletcher flourish over the years. “Breaking tackles, spinning. One time tonight he got knocked around, maintained his composure and kept going. It was amazing.
“He reminds me of Brandon Jacobs (a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants), who I found in Napoleonville, La. He’s got a little bit of Derrick Henry in him, too. The big backs who can move like that are a thing of beauty.”
Fletcher had some impressive runs Friday. He ran for 22 yards on his second carry and ripped off a 32-yarder on the first play of the second quarter to set up a 2-yard touchdown run moments later.
Mark Fletcher doing Mark Fletcher things. pic.twitter.com/A99n8ldQ4Q
— Adam Lichtenstein (@ABLichtenstein) December 17, 2022
He also had some very good blocks to buy extra time for his quarterback. He spent most of the night assisting right tackle Jimmy Williams, who drew the tough task of trying to slow down All-American edge rusher Rueben Bain. Fletcher used his hands and upper-body strength to redirect Bain several times, helping limit him to only one sack. Fletcher also caught three passes for 30 yards — making an impressive 18-yard sliding catch in the process.
When Heritage’s offense wasn’t on the field, Fletcher would meet individually with offensive linemen to discuss how he’d help with blitz pickup or share notes about tendencies he was seeing.
But Central’s offense — led by future Auburn quarterback commit Keyone Jenkins and standout receivers Lamar Seymore (Pittsburgh commitment) and Cataurus Hicks (Louisville) — just scored too much.
“We never quit,” Fletcher said. “Sometimes things don’t go your way.”
Announcing his college choice comes next. Fletcher said he already knows where he’s going.
He visited Gainesville last weekend and things went well.
“I just loved everything,” Fletcher said. “I love the education. I loved the weightlifting program, all the people. It was great energy, a great atmosphere.”
He’s taking an official visit to Miami this weekend. He’s been there many times.
Wednesday, Mario Cristobal, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, running backs coach Kevin Smith and linebackers coach Charlie Strong made an in-home visit. He said it was “like family friends coming over.”
What does Fletcher want to see during his official visit to Miami?
“Just how it could benefit me in the future,” he said. “How I could be developed. How they can take care of me and my family. Things of that nature.”
How do Miami coach Mario Cristobal and Florida coach Billy Napier compare?
“They both text me every single day,” Fletcher said. “They’re both great dudes, great coaches and leaders. They both don’t like to lose. That’s the good part about it.
“I could pick blindly, to be honest.”
(Photo: Manny Navarro / The Athletic)