Cole Fisher's rise to top of Iowa depth chart a feel-good tale

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Cole Fisher is the kind of guy you Dads out there would love your 20-something daughter to bring home for dinner. Handsome, affable, a brainiac. He’s recently added another higher-profile attribute to his son-in-law resume: starting Big Ten Conference linebacker.

Fisher has emerged almost out of nowhere in the Iowa football program. In his first career college start in Year 5 here, Fisher was the leading tackler in the Hawkeyes’ 31-14 season-opening win over Illinois State.

On Tuesday, suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, he was asked if Saturday felt different for him. A bright smile came across his face.

“I mean, yeah,” Fisher said. “I was playing defense for the first time.”

The laughs followed. Fisher, whose career tackle total jumped from nine to 17 in a span of three hours Saturday, continued.

“At first I was worried about the speed of the game, because I haven’t had a ton of reps on defense,” said Fisher, a special-teams lifer until this fall.

Linebackers Cole Fisher, middle, and Travis Perry, right, work to contain Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson on Saturday.

“I was like, ‘I hope I can keep up.’ But you get a couple plays in and you just get acclimated to the speed and realize, ‘Hey, I can really do this.’ It was all fun and games then.”

Football things only recently started to come together for Fisher. He caught some attention in the spring by intercepting Tyler Wiegers twice in open practices. And about a week before the season, the coaching staff moved him in front of Bo Bower as the starting weak-side linebacker.

The product of Omaha (Neb.) Millard North High School suddenly has more football focus -- and definitely more football attention. It's Cy-Hawk week, and Fisher will play a prominent role.

“It just seems like everything’s fallen into place, finally,” Fisher said.

Fisher, 23, is a civil engineering major – no academic cakewalk. He’s a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree anyway. But only a few classes away from graduation, Fisher is for the first time taking a reduced class load before pursuing his Masters degree in structural engineering.

“It’s been crazy. I’ve been so used to 15, 18 -- I was 18 hours one semester,” Fisher said. “I’ve always been so busy with school. And now this year without grad school, I’m at five.”

Fisher at first said he couldn’t really explain his rise to the top of Iowa’s depth chart. Then he started working through what happened, how he got here, and it made sense. After straddling both the weak-side and outside linebacker spots in practices, he got thrown into the backup middle linebacker slot after Travis Perry got hurt last November at Minnesota. Once he started learning the middle (aka “Mike”) spot, the whole picture clicked.

“When you get the view from all three positions, it just seems like everything falls into place (mentally),” Fisher said.

At Iowa, linebacker is one of the most difficult positions to learn. There are so many reads that need to take place before natural ability can take over. Fisher, at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, has shown the physical tools to play for years – he set the weight-room records for outside (“Leo”) linebacker in the pro agility drill (4.05 seconds) and the hang-clean lift (380 pounds).

The complete Cole Fisher package has arrived.

“I really have physically and mentally grown up, finally, between the fourth and fifth years,” Fisher said. “I think this is what they saw in me a long time ago. Just been a late bloomer, I guess. Better late than never.”