December 26, 2010

Fisher destined for greatness

Brunswick coach Pat Foster had just shaken hands with his new senior defensive end, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound behemoth with bulging forearms, wide hips and stout legs. Man, Forster thought, where was this kid the last three years? Get him a pair of pads, run him through a few Oklahoma drills and he'll have 20 sacks this year.

But Foster's dream died almost immediately. Turns out this was no senior. No defensive end either.

"After I met him one of the coaches comes over to me and tells me the kid's a freshman," Foster said. "And he plays quarterback."

Thus begins the legend of Ian Fisher, destined to be one of the all-time great quarterbacks in state history. He came within a coach's whim of being just another average defensive end. Luckily for him, Foster let him throw.

"Coach Foster gave me a chance," Fisher said. "Everything I've done and everything I do - it's for him and this program. I don't want to let him down."

Fisher's career might have been much different if he didn't put on a Favresque display in a preseason workout. After all, it's not everyday that tiny Brunswick has a chance to start a 6-6 defensive end.

It was the first offseason practice of 2008 and Fisher towered over his freshman teammates. He looked like a bumbling giant hunched over center, receiving a snap from a lineman who weighed 60 pounds less and was six inches shorter. But the awkward picture turned into a Mona Lisa after Fisher was through.

"First throw, I swear, he puts it up 70 yards," said Fisher's No. 1 receiver, Tyrus Lawson. "I mean, we would just run those go-routes all day long and he'd hit us in stride every time."

It took Foster exactly three weeks to bring him up to varsity. Brunswick had found their starting quarterback for the next four years.

"I don't know where he came from or how he got to Brunswick," said Foster, laughing. "But we're lucky to have him. He's taken us to a different level."

Indeed he has. After two years working out the mechanical kinks, Fisher led the Roaders to an 11-2 season and their first playoff appearance in five years in 2010. He passed for a state-high 3,025 yards, completed 65 percent of his throws (219 for 339) and tossed 27 touchdowns. He showed off his stellar arm on deep balls, his precision on mid-level zone reads and his zip on 8-yard hitch routes.

Oh, those hitch routes.

"Guys would come back to the huddle shaking their hands," Lawson said. "It comes in pretty fast. You have to be ready for it."

What's more, when the Roaders' top running back went down in the preseason, Fisher stepped up and ran for almost 700 yards and eight scores. Add it all together and it equals a two-and-a-half hour nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.

It's safe to say Brunswick's defense didn't have much fun either.

"We had to go against him every day in practice and we couldn't stop him," said junior defensive end RJ Hernandez. "His passes were on the receiver so quick - I mean they were right there -- it was impossible to stop. You have to have extra quick reaction time. And you can't play outside contain, because he'll hurt you with his legs."

Fisher literally began firing from the very first snap of 2010. Brunswick took the opening kickoff against Poolesville and started from their own 13-yard line after a holding call knocked them back. Foster wasn't about to go conservative, however. He wanted to unleash his weapon, so he dialed up a deep ball on the first down.

Fisher took one look at his speedy outside receiver and told him to "make it happen." One 77-yard catch-and-run later, they did just that.

"Best play all year," Fisher said. "It set the tone for the entire season."

Maybe so, but the tone was probably set months earlier, when Fisher began training harder then ever before. Although he had plenty of natural ability his first two years, Fisher never really worked to perfect his craft. But once he realized his talent could take him to college, he buckled down.

Fisher would wake up at 6 a.m. before school and begin running in order to knock 20 pounds off his somewhat chunky frame. Then he'd spend his afternoons in the weight room, increasing his bench press to over 300 pounds and his squat to 450. Later that evening he'd watch film to identify any flaws in his mechanics.

"His work ethic was contagious; he was doing things no one else was doing," Foster said. "He elevated the play of everyone around him to the point where the receivers felt like they wanted to catch all his throws and the linemen wanted to make sure he was upright in the pocket."

When Lawson wasn't training by himself, he was lofting passes to his receivers. He'd gather them up every day during the offseason and throw until it grew too dark to see.

Lawson, a senior, quickly became Fisher's favorite target. The two would spend hours together perfecting every route imaginable. It paid off during the season; Fisher-to-Lawson became one of the most prolific combinations in the state with the latter hauling in almost 60 passes.

"Our go-to play was just a simple slant route that we had down pat," Lawson said. "The timing was absolutely perfect. Against Williamsport he threw this ball right on the money and hit me in stride. I was able to catch it and run by the defense for a 30-yard touchdown."

Lawson wasn't Fisher's only weapon, however. He developed a Manning-like rapport with all his receivers. It got to the point where those 60 mile-per-hour bullets felt like pillows, and those time-sensitive out-routes became second nature.

"It took them awhile, but they got used to his throws," Foster said. "But in this year's playoff game against Western Tech Ian didn't want to make mistake so he took something off his velocity. That actually threw off the timing of the receivers because they were so used to being is position to catch those bullet passes. We were dropping balls we normally don't drop."

It was just a momentary lapse, but it was hardly the only mortal moment for the otherwise flawless gunslinger.

Fisher, for his part, said his footwork needs to improve. He has trouble stepping up in the pocket and side-stepping a rush. A lot of that has to do with his size (taller quarterbacks usually tend to be awkward), but Fisher isn't making excuses.

"I have all this natural ability, but my feet have always been so bad," Fisher said. "I have to be more agile, I have to be faster and my drops have to be better. That all comes down to footwork. I'm working on it day in and day out."

The faulty footwork flared up at the most inopportune time. In the state semifinals, Havre de Grace's pressure defense rattled Fisher all day in a 34-14 Brunswick loss.

Apparently that wasn't just a footwork problem either. Foster said Fisher didn't identify several blitzes, which led to a handful of sacks and an interception.

"The physical tools are all there, but if he can add the mental makeup and better understand defenses, other teams are really in trouble," Foster said. "He's already good, but he could be scary good. He could leave high school as one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Maryland."

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