(Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Chris Fisher’s mother, Brenda Fisher, is the business manager for The Independent Weekly.)
When your name is Fisher, the nicknames come easy: “big fish,” or even “fish sticks” as some teammates preferred. Perhaps the strangest one that stuck for Chris Fisher came from UL offensive coordinator Ron Hudson.
About a week into training camp in Fisher’s redshirt freshman year, Hudson, who at that time was offensive line coach, noticed something in the overly quiet and reserved young player: a newfound tenacity and refusal to back down, even to much bigger opposition from across the line of scrimmage.
“I noticed he was pretty good,” Hudson recalls. “And you know his name’s Fisher. I said, ‘you’re a tough fisher. You’re a tough fish. You’re a muskie!”
A Muskie, or muskellunge, is a rare freshwater fish — the largest of the pike family — found in the Great Lakes and known by Midwestern fishermen for their vicious fight. It’s also the mascot of Hudson’s alma mater: He played offensive line in the 1980s for the Muskinghum University Fighting Muskie’s in New Concord, Ohio.
“None of my players had any idea what a muskie was,” Hudson says. “And I had to explain to them it was a tough fish. It was a joke at first, but it was true. So [Chris Fisher] got the nickname Muskie, and he’s been Muskie ever since.”
Fisher has since lived up to his big fish billing. This year he is again a pre-season pick for the All-Sun Belt Conference team. He’s also found himself on the watch lists for the prestigious Rimington Trophy (nation’s top center), Lombardi Trophy (top lineman or linebacker) and Outland Trophy (top interior lineman). (UL senior left guard Brad Bustle was also named pre-season All-Sun Belt and is on the Lombardi watch list.) Fisher is the only Sun Belt Conference player to make the Outland Trophy watch list. The UL center has also drawn the attention of pro scouts, and is viewed as perhaps the team’s top NFL prospect this season.
“It’s a possibility for me,” he says. “That’s a choice I’m going to have to make in December and January when the time comes. Right now, I’m just focusing on the season. I’m not really letting the thought of that and some of the desires I have in my life to affect that choice right now. I’m just going to have to sit down with my family and the people that are important to me and make that decision on whether I’m going to try to go [pro] or if I’m just going to continue my education and get a job.”
An honor roll student, Fisher will obtain his bachelor’s degree in accounting in December. He plans to continue school for another semester to get an additional degree in finance and has aspirations of taking his CPA exam following school.
“I remember [Delhomme] taking the knee for the play to win it and people rushing the field,” Fisher says. “And my mom made me leave because she was scared I was going to get hurt in the crowd. She was pretty protective of me when I was younger.”
Despite being a three-year starter at offensive guard at St. Thomas More High School, Fisher wasn’t recruited to play for any major colleges, including UL. Scouts who visited STM often overlooked him, dismissing the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound lineman as too small to be effective at the college level. Fisher says he had pretty much given up on any thought of playing college ball when he enrolled at UL. Then he got the call from Coach Rickey Bustle asking him to come out for the team as a preferred walk on.
“I had decided after signing day and after the recruiting classes were in, I wasn’t going anywhere [to play football] and that I was just going to be a student over here [at UL],” Fisher says. “Then I got the opportunity to walk on a couple of days before camp started as a freshman. I had to make a pretty quick decision on whether I wanted to play or not. I decided to play, and I really believe it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Fisher had been out of training for months when he first showed up at camp. But what he lacked in size, coaches found he made up for in technique, heart and determination.
“We didn’t know what we had,” says Hudson. “He was a late walk on, so we weren’t sure that he was going to be a player. But he was very well coached in high school. He was a very good technician and he was very competitive.”
“He was very resourceful,” Hudson continues, “because he wasn’t very big so he tended to have to find other ways to be successful even if it was unorthodox and he always did.” Through good fundamentals, Fisher found ways to compensate for his lack of size. Fisher also made an impression by letting his playing do the talking, almost to a fault. “He didn’t say two words for six months,” Hudson says. “It was actually comical. We all made fun of the fact that he didn’t say anything. He just played and you put him at center, you put him at guard you put him at tackle he played it very well. He played very hard.”
Despite impressing coaches with his solid technique and scrappy determination, Fisher still struggled to acclimate himself to the college game his rookie season. But he showed up to camp his second year with a newfound determination.
“Every coach,” Fisher says, “that came into my high school and looked at me, just said, ‘You know he’s a little short and not big enough for what we’re looking for.’ And when I got here it was the same thing. I was undersized; I was getting thrown around a lot. But I put my head into it my redshirt freshman year that I wasn’t going to let that be the problem anymore. I wasn’t going to let that be what I felt was a cheap excuse for not letting guys that are smaller play.”
Fisher also hit the weight room, bulking up to 285 pounds. He soon found himself at second-string center; following an injury to the starting center, Fisher was on the field for the second game of the season at LSU. Lining up against the Tiger tandem of Glenn Dorsey and Charles Alexander, two of the nation’s most imposing defensive linemen, Fisher held his own. He’s been UL’s starter at center ever since.
Now entering his senior year, Fisher, in the unsung role of offensive lineman, is one of the core leaders of this year’s team. “Chris is very deserving,” says Bustle. “I think he’s one of the best centers in this league. I think he’s one of the best in the country; that’s why he’s on those lists.”
The coaches don’t hesitate to underscore the important role UL’s veteran offensive line will play in any success this season, giving a solid front for the team’s new starters at both quarterback and tailback. Fisher is joined by two other seniors and three-year starters on the offensive line, Brad Bustle (the coach’s son) at left guard and Kyle Pirdle at the left tackle position.
“Those guys were all a little undersized, under-strength [as freshmen],” recalls coach Bustle. “But all of a sudden now, those guys have really worked hard to develop themselves. They are athletic and they know how to work and they have worked themselves into these positions.”
Hudson adds that Fisher has grown comfortable with the role of being a vocal leader for the team. “He’s loud and obnoxious now,” Hudson says. “He and Brad Bustle and Kyle Pirdle are my three seniors and they were all quiet freshmen. Now they’re all loud and obnoxious. They’re fun. They’re great kids.”
|Photo by Robin May
The football limelight is new for Fisher, but playing for the Ragin’ Cajuns has long been a dream of his. Fisher got his first vision of one day playing for UL when he was 9 years old. That was the year he attended his first college football game and watched Jake Delhomme lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to the team’s biggest upset victory in history over the Texas A&M Aggies.
Click here to view a pdf of The Independent Weekly staff football picks.The football limelight is new for Fisher, but playing for the Ragin’ Cajuns has long been a dream of his. Fisher got his first vision of one day playing for UL when he was 9 years old. That was the year he attended his first college football game and watched Jake Delhomme lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to the team’s biggest upset victory in history over the Texas A&M Aggies.
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