Fisher adds new options to offense
By MIKE CONNOLLY
If Ohio State head coach John Cooper hates Notre Dame because of its TV agreement with NBC, sophomore tailback Tony Fisher could be the reason why.
Fisher, who was named Mr. Football in Ohio his senior year, said that seeing Notre Dame on TV every week played a big part in his decision to wear the blue and gold rather than the scarlet and gray
"Notre Dame was like a dream for me since I was growing up," he said. "That was all you saw on TV was Notre Dame football. Coming to Notre Dame was an opportunity to make a dream into a reality."
Hailing from Euclid High School in Euclid, Ohio, it was assumed that the high school that produced former Buckeye stars Robert Smith and Pepe Pearson would also send Fisher to Ohio State.
Many people put pressure on Fisher to stay in state and play for the Buckeyes.
"There was a great deal of pressure considering that Robert Smith was the only two-time Mr. Football in Ohio," Fisher said. "Plus since he and Pepe both went there it was as if Ohio State offered me a scholarship when I was a sophomore. I felt a lot of pressure to go down there."
Fisher, however, wanted to make a name for himself and not follow in the footsteps of previous stars.
"Notre Dame gave me the opportunity to do something different," he said. "Most running backs and players from my high school went to Ohio State. Coming to Notre Dame gave me the chance to do something for myself."
Despite all the pressure from Ohio State fans and Euclid's tradition of sending its stars to Ohio State, Fisher chose Notre Dame in the end.
"I was scared that if I didn't go to Ohio State a lot of people would turn on me," Fisher said. "But coming down to crunch time, something in my mind told me to go to Notre Dame."
Against Michigan last Saturday, Fisher again found himself in "crunch time." In the fourth quarter, Fisher was on the field for every critical offensive play. Fisher said he was honored to be on the field for those key plays.
"It was pretty much of a privilege," he said. "Luckily the coaches have confidence to keep me in the game when it was crunch time. So I think it was a big confidence booster for me."
Fisher has come a long way in the spring and the summer to reach the point where he is now. After getting only 18 carries and gaining 75 yards as a freshman waiting behind Autry Denson in the depth chart, Fisher entered this year as a co-starter with junior tailback Tony Driver.
Playing behind Denson helped him become a better back, according to Fisher.
"It helped me out a great deal," Fisher said. "I got the opportunity to watch Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher. When I would get into the game, Autry would tell me to just be relaxed. Now out here in practice and in the games, I am just trying to keep that same kind of focus."
That focus allowed him to slightly separate himself from Driver in the eyes of the coaches to become the more featured back in the Irish offense. Despite Fisher's emergence as a solid tailback, head coach Bob Davie said that the competition for playing time is far from over.
"Tony Fisher, right now, as far as the different dimensions he brings with pass receiving, protection — all the things we ask a tailback to do — is probably a little more solid than Tony Driver," Davie said. "But it is still close."
The competition with Driver has improved both backs' game, according to Fisher.
"I think it is making us both a better player," he said. "We know what we got to do since we are going out there everyday and competing in practice."
The competition for playing time was extremely close going into the Kansas game but Fisher was given the starting nod against the Jayhawks. He rotated every possession with Driver but distinguished himself with a 46 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give the Irish a 41-13 lead. Fisher finished his first start with 111 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Fisher's runs came despite some poor blocking, according to Davie.
"[Fisher] made some of those runs by himself," Davie said after the Kansas game. "I don't think we blocked anyone on a few of those runs."
Against the Wolverines, the Irish used Fisher to showcase a new offensive wrinkle. The tailback caught two passes for 51 yards, including a 47-yard catch that set up an Irish touchdown. Fisher said that he has always been a good receiver.
"I started off playing receiver when I started playing football," he said. "And I guess coach Rogers noticed that I could catch so he put me in the offensive passing package."
Fisher's receiving threat makes the Irish offense more dangerous, according to Davie.
"One thing you have seen in college football right now is that you can give diversity by formation without substituting," he said. "Because if you substitute to get diversity, the defense substitutes and they can match up with nickel and dime players in the game. If you can be a two-back team and then line up in a one-back set, that causes problems for the defense because they have a linebacker matching up with a running back."
Fisher will look to add to his team-leading 237 yards of total offense this Saturday against Purdue in West Lafayette.
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 10, 1999