Fisher hopes for sharp Cactus Bowl
By Mike London
Kory Fisher and George Bell gazed at an unfriendly scoreboard that offered bad news on an otherwise pleasant October afternoon: Carson-Newman 35, Catawba 20.
The good news was it was only halftime. The better news was the running backs and road roommates had spent the previous night watching Hawaii’s dramatic comeback that forced overtime and led to a 42-35 victory over San Jose State.
“The night before we’d been sitting there watching and thinking how crazy it would be for Hawaii to come back,” Fisher said. “I told George, ‘Well, what we saw last night is about to happen again right now.’ ”
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Fisher was as good as his word. He bolted 69 yards from the Catawba 24 to the Carson-Newman 7. Two plays later, Jamelle Cuthbertson scored, and the Indians didn’t stop scoring until they had secured an epic 55-49 victory.
Fisher’s big play was the highlight of his All-SAC senior season ó a season still in progress. He and Catawba quarterback Brad Roach will play for the East all-stars in Friday’s Valero Cactus Bowl in Kingsville, Texas.
The Cactus Bowl is the premier showcase all-star game for Division II players.
The game is just part of a week-long experience that can impact the futures of Roach, who threw for 3,322 yards and 32 TDs this season, and Fisher, who rushed 156 times for 971 yards. Roach and Fisher started working out under the watchful eyes of a small army of agents and scouts on Sunday.
Fisher sprained a knee ligament in Catawba’s playoff win against Albany State and didn’t make the trip to Valdosta State the following week. The Indians lost to the eventual national champions to end an 11-2 season.
“I was about 75 percent and didn’t make that trip,” Fisher said. “It was real tough listening on the radio. I just wish I could have gone down fighting with my boys.
“Now I’m about 90 percent, but it’s getting there, and I plan to outwork everybody at the Cactus Bowl. I want to let people know the athlete I am. I don’t think a lot of scouts and agents really know me yet.”
At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Roach has the look of a prototype NFL pocket passer.
“There are a lot of NFL teams taking a very good, long, hard look at Brad,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “With a good week at the Cactus Bowl, he could get drafted.”
Hearing his name called during April’s seven-round NFL draft is a less likely proposition for Fisher, who doesn’t have imposing size at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds. Still, Hester is convinced Fisher can play at the next level, and there are a number of different leagues.
“With Kory, it’s going to come down to how high he jumps and how fast he is when scouts test him,” Hester said. “But he’s talented enough, for sure, and he has the heart. He’s a gem, and I am convinced that if he gets a chance, there’s a coach out there who’s going to fall in love with him.”
Fisher was a marquee recruit for Catawba after a spectacular prep career at New Bern that included 6,000 rushing yards. He followed his brother, Kolby, a defensive lineman whose potentially brilliant career at Catawba was cut short by injury.
After redshirting in 2003, Fisher enjoyed a promising 2004 season with 304 rushing yards. He broke out his sophomore year, smashing the school record with 1,079 rushing yards ó 192 against Virginia State.
But his junior season was a nightmare from which he couldn’t wake up. He missed two games with injuries and hobbled through the others. The offensive line was at least as beaten up as Fisher, and holes were rare. His high game was 70 yards and he averaged a meager 2.6 yards per carry, half of his previous production.
“Sure it was tough,” Fisher said. “But I tried to keep it all about the team concept, and I knew if everyone was healthy, the offensive line was going to be a lot better my senior year.”
They were. He rushed for 6.2 yards a carry and finished his career second on Catawba’s rushing list with 2,623 yards.
“I didn’t reach some personal goals for a perfect season, but as far as team goals, it was great,” Fisher said. “Winning the conference, getting Catawba back to being known nationally. Those things were a long time coming.”
Hester’s preseason conversation with Fisher has been talked about before, but the impact of that exchange on Catawba’s return to prominence can’t be overstated.
Catawba had an opportunity to bring in Bell, who was looking to transfer from Virginia Tech. Hester sought Fisher’s blessing because he was the player who would be most directly impacted.
Fisher was concerned about the team, not his own numbers, and he enthusiastically endorsed the addition of Bell, who scored a school-record 20 TDs.
The scenario worked out as well as it possibly could have. Fisher and Bell became close friends.
Fisher, Bell and Cuthbertson stayed fresh and thrived, even on a team that threw often. The trio teamed for 2,332 rushing yards and scored 39 TDs for a record-breaking offense that put up 44.5 points a game.
“I think you have to go back to when Kory was the young guy and Mario Crowe was the veteran running back and how they worked together as quality individuals,” Hester said. “When I look back to my conversation with Kory about George, I think I knew then that we were on the right track for the season.”
As good as Fisher’s senior season was, he wasn’t expecting all-star invitations, and the Cactus Bowl did a good job of keeping rosters secret.
It was Roach who found out first. He saw the list on the Internet, then called to let Fisher know.
“Brad said, ‘Don’t you ever check your student mail?’ ” Fisher said with a laugh.
Fisher will bring to the Cactus Bowl the same fire he brought to every game.
Catawba fans won’t forget his game against Lenoir-Rhyne late in his senior year. Less than two minutes after the Bears had elected to defend the north end zone, Fisher was standing in it. He had trucked a Bear on the third snap, barreled 46 yards and set the tone for a 45-0 romp.
“When one of your best players is also one of your hardest workers, it’s a pleasure to coach,” Hester said. “His contributions as a running back were obvious, but he also did all the little things extremely well. As a receiver and as a pass protector, he was huge for us.”
nContact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.
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