Every coach, player and fan has done it.
We’ve all sat back and thought about the prototypical player, picturing a flawless image of how an athlete in a certain sport or a particular position should look. Whether it’s a 6-5 strong-armed quarterback, or a 215-pound tailback, there is a natural desire to look for a player that fits “the mold.” It is measuring those kind of tangibles in an athlete that is often the quickest and most common way to tag a player at a particular position.
What about those intangibles that can’t be measured in a conventional manner?
When watching Linfield safety Drew Fisher play, it is clear there is something different. For starters, he comes in at a slender and athletic 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, a build more suited for a lanky wide receiver then a safety.
While his physical makeup is hardly one of a conventional safety, every other dimension of Fisher’s game fits just right when building the model safety. The junior mixes a blend of football savvy with hard-hitting instincts that have been felt on the regional and national stage.
As for the honorable mention All-American’s take on the perception a safety needs certain measurables, Fisher doesn’t buy it.
“I’ve never really looked at (body size) as a big issue or key factor that would prevent me from competing with an opposing player,” notes the junior from Gresham, Ore. “I believe a lot of it is mental and you have to trust your skills and just go out and compete and have fun.”
When talking to Fisher one thing is clear: He has a love for playing safety and the game of football. Growing up playing both quarterback and safety, Fisher was finally forced to make a decision during high school on what side of the ball his future would be. Luckily for the ‘Cats, Fisher elected to stay at safety.
After committing himself to the safety position fulltime, Fisher started the maturation process that continues to this day. In a position with constant responsibility, Fisher has produced since the moment he stepped onto Maxwell Field in the fall of 2008.
“Playing the safety position allows me to have quite a bit of freedom,” says Fisher, the team’s leading tackler with 73 stops a season ago. “However, with all of that freedom comes a ton of responsibility. This means being the free tackler on a lot of run plays and getting to cover some talented wide receivers in the slot. My favorite part about safety is being put in position to make big plays and then executing (my assignment).”
Both the preparation and execution have turned Fisher into on of the nation’s top safeties. While the two-year starter is as polished a safety as there is in the country, it took some time for Fisher to adjust to the responsibilities associated with playing safety at the collegiate level.
“My first two years was a struggle to learn all my assignments each week and I relied heavily on my teammates to bark out the calls for me,” recalls Fisher. “But now that those guys are gone I not only have to make calls that were normally shouted at me, but I have to make more calls for the new wave of linebackers. My knowledge has improved, my communication has been more effective, and I think my leadership has grown in the two years that I have been here at Linfield.”
But when Fisher takes the field on Saturday afternoons, it is impossible to see the hours or preparation that he goes through in order to be ready for a given opponent. All fans can see is a wirey defender take his position in the back of the secondary.
And then fans see him hit.
If there is one thing the Linfield faithful have grown accustomed to over the past two seasons, it is the consistency with which Fisher is able to generate big hits.
Loving the opportunity to lay out a big hit, Fisher has had no shortage of opportunities, whether it is hitting a wide receiver over the middle or coming up to make a tackle on a running back. For Fisher, it is instincts, not size that allows him to naturally come up with big hits.
“It isn’t exactly something you think about,” notes Fisher of the big hits. “It just comes naturally because of the repetition in practice. That’s when your instincts come into play, and there comes a point where instincts become even more important than being the ‘prototypical’ size for playing not only safety, but football in general.”
Head coach Joseph Smith, who gave Fisher an opportunity to see significant playing time as a freshman, sees a player with the complete package at the safety position.
“Drew has great vision, great anticipation and athletic ability to go with it,” notes Smith. “That combination allows him to get into the right places at the right time. He also has tremendous hip-pop and timing, which allows him to be a punishing hitter.”
While big hits spur the excitement of the crowd, Fisher is quick to point out his ultimate responsibility as a safety.
“Knowing the defense is easily the biggest responsibility,” explains Fisher. “Hours and hours of watching film, meeting with coaches, and teammates about how to run a defense are quite a load sometimes. Leadership seems to naturally come with all of the responsibility. When you are making calls and telling people what their assignment is on plays, your teammates start to look up to you and build trust in you.”
The combination of physical tools and a seasoned mentally toward preparation has put Fisher in a position to be remembered as one of Linfield all-time greatest safeties. His accomplishments are well recognized by Smith, himself a former All-America defensive back.
“Drew is a hard worker and a fierce competitor, and if he keeps that up, he has the chance to be considered among the elite to have ever played safety here at Linfield,” says Smith.
Just two games into his junior season, Fisher understands the weight of his coach’s words, while keeping a mature perspective on what he has left to accomplish.
“This program has a tremendous history and I am aware of the caliber of players that have paid their dues as Wildcats,” reflects Fisher. “I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a team that made it to the semifinals and on teams with high expectations. Consequently, there has been some individual recognition. I think there is still a lot to prove in the next two years for not only me, but this team.
“If I could finish my career here with some more playoff runs and hopefully a championship, and Coach Smith saying the same thing in two years, then I would consider my time as a Wildcat a huge success. There is just too much time left and a whole lot to prove for anyone to get loads of recognition for what they have done so far. It just motivates you to maintain that high level of play and forces you to step up and be that leader that all your teammates can rely on in that crucial situation.”
-- Eric Evenson ‘11
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128