IOWA CITY, Iowa – Cole Fisher very easily could’ve said the heck with being a reserve linebacker on the Iowa football team and transferred to another school.
But he stayed the course for three seasons as a seldom-used backup and now is being rewarded for his patience and perseverance as a fifth-year senior.
Fisher made his first career start on Saturday against Illinois State and finished with a team-leading eight tackles during the 31-14 victory at Kinnick Stadium.
“Going into my fifth year and putting in all the hard work the whole time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated over the course of this,” Fisher said. “And now finally everything seems to be paying off and everything is clicking.
“Honestly, it’s indescribable. I’m having the time of my life out there.”
Fisher’s versatility ultimately helped him earn a starting position. He was listed as the backup to Ben Niemann at outside linebacker throughout spring practice, as well as being the backup to Bo Bower at will linebacker.
Nothing had changed when preseason practice started in August. It wasn’t until after the Kids Day scrimmage on Aug. 15 that Fisher started to move ahead of Bower at will linebacker.
Bower started all 13 games at outside linebacker as a redshirt freshman last season.
“I was kind of nervous just because starting in the spring I couldn’t move away from the No. 2 position,” Fisher said. “And then going into camp, for the first couple weeks I was still kind of stuck there. And then I started moving around a little bit and that made me more nervous.”
Fisher was so nervous that he asked the coaches where he stood among the linebackers. He only had one more season to play college football, so time was running out on him.
“They really weren’t sure,” Fisher said of the Iowa coaches. “And then after the Kids Day scrimmage they asked me, `what do you think of will?’
“And that’s what I’ve played the most here. So I was comfortable making the adjustment.”
Fisher has played all three linebacker positions at one time during his Hawkeye career. The Omaha, Neb., native thinks that, along with being a fifth-year senior, helped him finally crack the starting lineup.
“It helps a ton,” Fisher said of being a fifth-year senior. “Not only that but playing all three (linebacker positions).
“Once you get a view from all three, you really get to see how it all fits together and the defense as a whole.”
Fisher was part of an Iowa defense that held Illinois State’s vaunted rushing attack to just 35 yards on Saturday. Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich, who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, was held to 32 rushing yards on 13 carries, while dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson spent most of the game trying to avoid Iowa’s pressure in the pocket. Roberson finished with a minus-12 yards on 12 carries.
“They’ve got good players and they’re tough players and they’re very well-coached, so we were worried about that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the Redbirds. “And then with the running back and quarterback combination that they have. I don’t mind telling you, I had some negative thoughts during the week. As the week went on, you start wondering about things.”
Fisher was among three Nebraska natives who started on defense for Iowa on Saturday. The others were senior defensive end Drew Ott and sophomore tackle Nathan Bazata.
Ott, who had two of Iowa’s five sacks on Saturday, is one of the more celebrated players on the team, earning second-team all-Big accolades last season. He is also one of the team’s funniest players.
“He’s a goofy guy and it’s a lot of fun,” Fisher said of playing with Ott. “It’s definitely a lot of fun.”