- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back in the late ‘90s, when they were bumping helmets at John Carroll University, London Fletcher and Josh McDaniels couldn’t possibly have imagined the reunion they’ll have Sunday at FedEx Field. Fletcher, after all, was an odd-sized (read: undraftable) Division III linebacker whose NFL prospects were somewhere between remote and hallucinatory. McDaniels’ career as a wideout was even more modest, and he seemed a good bet to follow his father into high school coaching.

“It is a little strange when you think about it,” Fletcher said Monday at Redskin Park. “This is my college teammate, he’s younger than me and he’s a head coach in the NFL.”

It’s strange all around, this meeting of the 34-year-old Redskins tackling machine and the 33-year-old Broncos coaching prodigy. Who could have envisioned Fletcher not just making it in the pro game but lasting a dozen indestructible seasons? And who would have thought McDaniels would rise so quickly through the coaching ranks and get his big shot at such an early age?

We’re talking lottery-type odds, the possibility of this happening - especially when you consider their alma mater. John Carroll, a Jesuit school of about 4,000 in suburban Cleveland, is no football powerhouse, even on the small college level. In the Ohio Athletic Conference, it looks up, way up, at Mount Union, winner of 10 of the last 16 national championships.

Indeed, when Fletcher improbably cracked the Rams’ roster in 1998, he became the first John Carroll alum to play in the NFL in almost 40 years - since Carl Taseff was picking off passes for the Baltimore Colts (among others). If the university is known for anything, it’s known for producing Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history.

Fletcher transferred to John Carroll from St. Francis (Pa.), where he was recruited to play Division I basketball. (Yes, this 5-foot-10, 245-pound wrecker of running backs was quite the hoopster. In fact, I just found a picture of him scrambling for a loose ball against Mount St. Mary’s.)

When he decided to switch schools - and come home to Cleveland - it was “more about getting an education,” he said. “I love playing sports - and I played basketball and football while I was there - but at that point in my life it was about getting an education, graduating from college and getting a good job.”

McDaniels, a year behind Fletcher, had starred at quarterback at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio (one half of the famed McKinley-Massillon rivalry). His legendary father, Thom, had coached him there. At John Carroll, though, he got beaten out by Nick Caserio - now director of player personnel with the Patriots - and wound up catching passes from Caserio instead.

“Josh has a great coaching pedigree,” Fletcher said. “His dad is a great high school coach. And obviously, working under Nick Saban at Michigan State and Bill Belichick at New England gave him a great background.”

Fletcher used to see McDaniels more often when the two were in the AFC East - London with the Bills and Josh on the Pats’ staff. The last time they crossed paths on the playing field was October 2007, when Tom Brady and Co. rang up 52 points against the Redskins (en route to setting a single-season scoring record of 589). By then, McDaniels had moved up the ladder from personnel assistant to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator/play caller.

“Josh does a good job of understanding week-to-week what’s going to work best against a particular opponent,” Fletcher said. “He understands how to attack the defense.”

McDaniels has brought that same mentality to Denver. He hit a few bumps in the beginning - his quarterback, Jay Cutler, forced a trade, and his top receiver, Brandon Marshall, tried his darnedest to - but they were quickly forgotten in the Broncos’ 6-0 start. What really helped him, Fletcher is convinced, was hiring Mike Nolan (another Coach’s Kid) as his defensive coordinator and signing a proven winner like Brian Dawkins, the erstwhile Eagles safety, in free agency.

“When you talk about the makeup of that team now and the makeup of that coaching staff,” Fletcher said, “I wouldn’t say it surprised me that they’ve done as well as they have.”

Maybe, he added, the two not-so-old teammates will get a chance to visit before Sunday’s game. When McDaniels was an O-coordinator, he was always out on the field during warmups, but now that he’s a head coach, “I know he has a lot [more] to worry about,” Fletcher said.

If they do meet up, they’ll talk about what they always talk about - London’s two young kids and Josh’s recent marriage and their days playing football for the John Carroll Blue Streaks. You can almost picture them looking at each other, arms spread wide, and saying with a smile, “Who knew?”

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