If Brian Fleury's collegiate career was as successful as it was at Seneca Valley High School, he probably wouldn't be in the position he is now.
At Seneca Valley, playing for his stepfather, Terry Changuris, Fleury was a stud. He was an All-State and first team All-Met quarterback for the Screaming Eagles who passed for 26 touchdowns, a school-record 2,025 yards and four interceptions during his senior year. Seneca Valley won the 4A state championship that year.
In college, Fleury walked on at the University of Maryland and after a season knowing there wasn't a future there, he transferred to Towson University, where he spent four years on the sidelines.
“If my playing career at Towson had been more of a success, I might have been able to walk away from football,” said Fleury, who graduated from Seneca Valley in 1998. “I felt there was more to give back to the sport. Because I didn't have a successful college career, I knew I was done as a player, but I thought this wasn't the way it was supposed to end.
“I couldn't just stop.”
So he went into the family business. During his career as a coach, Fleury has had stops at Maryland, Sacred Heart University and Towson before his current new beginning with the Buffalo Bills as a defensive quality control coach.
Fleury spent his formative years around football and Changuris.
Changuris held coaches' meetings at his house and Fleury soaked it all in. And it was more than plays. He saw the raw hours coaches put in, how they handle personnel decisions and the ways coaches interacted with each other. He was with Changuris during trips for scouting or to coaching clinics. He was around football all the time.
He started high school at Frederick High School. But while watching a Seneca Valley game against Gaithersburg during his first semester, he made it clear he wanted to switch schools.
“I said to him, 'Don't you wish you could be here?'” Changuris recalled. “He just busted out crying, big crocodile tears. He said he didn't want to be [at Frederick]. He wanted to be here. We withdrew him, sent him to Seneca and around 10th grade he had his eyes set on being a starting quarterback and he wanted to be a football coach. He never said it, but he wanted to be a football coach.”
When Fleury took over as the starting quarterback, Changuris said he was more than prepared. Being around all the coaches and his intelligence allowed him to make a seamless transition.
The Screaming Eagles won two county championships with Fleury under center. The tall quarterback thought he could play in college at a Division 1 program. He walked on at Maryland, but his lack of mobility held him back and he made the decision to transfer.
He went to Towson, where he met then-associate head coach Rob Ambrose. Fleury had trouble cracking the lineup and was more of a player-coach.
“At one point, I was in the huddle with the starting quarterback coaching him to play quarterback,” Fleury said. “It was a little conflicting.”
Fleury finished school in September of 2002 and caught on with Ralph Friedgen at Maryland as a graduate assistant from 2003-2004. In 2005, he was hired as Sacred Heart's secondary coach and was quickly moved to defensive coordinator, working under that title from 2006-2008.
In 2009, he returned to his alma mater with Rob Ambrose, who was hired to rebuild a struggling program and wanted a fellow alumnus to help. Fleury was one of Ambrose's first hires and was in charge of the defensive secondary and special teams.
The first two seasons were tough — the Tigers went 3-19 — but found success in the third year by going 9-3 (7-1 Colonial Athletic Association) and winning the CAA championship for the first time in school history, and a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision tournament, also the school's first.
“He's one of those guys who saw the game with bigger eyes,” Ambrose said. “When he was a player and knowing his dad as well as I did, and his dad knowing my dad, I could see the coach in him coming. You try to discourage it — it's not the life for the weak of heart. But all players have it: that virus that never goes away. It takes someone special to use it. He uses it to the Nth degree.”
Fleury was planning on a fifth season at Towson just a few weeks ago. On a Wednesday night, he was flying home from an American Football Coaches Association clinic in Nashville. He turned his phone on after the flight and had a voicemail from Jim O'Neil, a former Towson teammate who was recently hired as a linebackers coach by the Bills. O'Neil wanted to recommend Fleury to be a linebackers assistant.
Fleury drove to New Jersey the next day to meet with Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the New York Jets' defensive coordinator from 2009-12. After the interview, Fleury was offered the job on the spot and he accepted. That Monday he was in Buffalo, evaluating players by reviewing film from the Bills' previous season.
“I'm excited to be here,” Fleury said. “The funny thing is, people have been really going out of their way to reach out to me and say all the hard work has paid off. The thing is, the hard work is just starting and I don't think people understand that. They think I won the lottery or something. It's an exciting opportunity, but it's just that: an opportunity.
“I have to work harder than I ever have to prove I belong here. I don't see it as an end. I see it as a beginning more than anything else.”