‘Mean’ line­backer re­fuses to be ‘nail’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

The 23rd in a se­ries pro­fil­ing new­com­ers to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball team.

FAYETTEVILLE — Fresh­man line­backer Kyrei Fisher brings a phys­i­cal pres­ence to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs’ de­fense.

“Kyrei doesn’t have any fear of hit­ting peo­ple,” Ra­zor­backs in­side lineback­ers coach Ver­non Har­g­reaves said. “That’s not a prob­lem for him at all.

“Now we’ve just got to make sure he’s hit­ting the right peo­ple.”

Fisher played in the 3-4 de­fense — which Arkansas switched to this sea­son from the 4- 3 — at Tulsa Union High School, but he is work­ing at a new po­si­tion. At Union, Fisher was an out­side line­backer. At the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he’s an in­side line­backer.

“I’m fa­mil­iar with the 3-4

de­fense, but since I hadn’t played in­side line­backer be­fore I got here, it’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent,” Fisher said. “It’s an ad­just­ment for me, but the coaches are do­ing a great job of show­ing me ev­ery­thing I need to know to be suc­cess­ful.

“I’m just try­ing to be a sponge and ab­sorb as much as I can ev­ery day.”

Fisher, 6-1 and 234 pounds, has been work­ing with the third-team de­fense in train­ing camp. He had six tack­les in the Aug. 5 scrim­mage.

Dur­ing the open por­tion of Sat­ur­day’s scrim­mage, he got some work with the sec­ond-team de­fense and recorded two tack­les.

“Kyrei’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast,” Arkansas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said. “He needs to ac­quire more knowl­edge so he can take those traits and play that way from snap through the whis­tle.”

Har­g­reaves has given Fisher work at both the weak-side and mid­dle line­backer spots.

“I think he’s got the phys­i­cal abil­ity to get it done,” Har­g­reaves said. “Now it’s just a mat­ter of him be­ing able to ex­e­cute the de­fense and do the things that we coach.”

Fisher said he’s fine play­ing ei­ther in­side line­backer spot.

“At Mike you’re mak­ing the calls,” he said. “It’s kind of like be­ing the quar­ter­back of the de­fense. Will is the per­son that makes all the tack­les.

“So it’s re­ally a win-win sit­u­a­tion. I don’t have a pref­er­ence. I just want to play.”

Fisher had 65 tack­les, in­clud­ing eight sacks, last sea­son when he helped Union win the Ok­la­homa Class 6A state cham­pi­onship.

“Kyrei was an ex­cel­lent player for us,” Union Coach Kirk Fridrich said. “He re­ally put to­gether a great se­nior year and cre­ated a lot of prob­lems for our op­po­nents.

“He made a lot of plays and also was a great team­mate and leader. He’s a guy that just en­joys play­ing the game and has a lot of ath­letic abil­ity and strength. I’m ex­cited to see what he’s go­ing to do at Arkansas.”

Fisher said he’s al­ways loved play­ing de­fense be­cause he gets to hit. He said be­ing on of­fense at a po­si­tion such as tight end or run­ning back never in­ter­ested him.

“I don’t care about be­ing one of those pretty boys on of­fense,” he said, laugh­ing. “I’m the type of guy that wants to take those guys’ heads off.

“You’re ei­ther go­ing to be the hunter or be the hunted, and I want to be the hunter. You’re go­ing to be the ham­mer or you’re go­ing to be the nail, and I refuse to be nail.

“Any­body that’s man enough to step up against me, I’m go­ing to pun­ish him for it. That’s just how I feel. That’s been put into my brain from the time I was young to now, and noth­ing is go­ing to change that.”

Fisher’s fel­low Arkansas fresh­men can at­test to his mind­set.

“Off the field Kyrei’s re­ally

a nice guy, but on the field he just flips a switch and gets real mean,” run­ning back Maleek Wil­liams said. “I think he’s go­ing to be a beast for the de­fense.”

Of­fen­sive tackle Shane Clenin said he likes go­ing against Fisher in prac­tice.

“When you hit Kyrei, if you’re not match­ing his en­ergy al­ready, you have to quick,” Clenin said. “It’ll throw you for a loop if you’re not ready for it.

“I haven’t heard him say a word on the field, un­less it’s mak­ing a call. You never hear him talk­ing or laugh­ing or any­thing. He’s just — bam! — locked in.

“I’m very ex­cited to see how he ends up as a player here later down the road.”

Fisher com­mit­ted to Min­nesota in the spring be­fore his se­nior year at Union, but he was happy when Arkansas be­gan re­cruit­ing him in the fall.

Af­ter tak­ing an of­fi­cial visit to Arkansas on Nov. 12 — when the Ra­zor­backs beat Florida 31-10 — and be­ing of­fered a schol­ar­ship, Fisher com­mit­ted to the Ra­zor­backs on Dec. 19.

Fisher said a big rea­son he signed with Arkansas is be­cause it’s an SEC school less than a two-hour drive from Tulsa.

“My fam­ily means a lot to me, so be­ing so close to home is im­por­tant,” he said. “And who doesn’t want to go to the SEC? The best play­ers are in the SEC, so com­ing here just made sense.”

Go­ing to Min­nesota also be­came less at­trac­tive be­cause the foot­ball pro­gram be­came en­gulfed in con­tro­versy re­sult­ing from a sex­ual as­sault in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to the sus­pen­sion of 10 play­ers Dec. 10.

Min­nesota’s other play­ers threat­ened to boy­cott the Hol­i­day Bowl against Wash­ing­ton State, al­though they backed down and the Golden Go­phers beat the Cougars 17-12.

Tracy Claeys was fired as Min­nesota’s coach on Jan. 3 and later re­placed by P.J. Fleck.

“I didn’t need all that drama,” Fisher said of his de­ci­sion to back off sign­ing with Min­nesota. “I was like, ‘What am I walk­ing into?’ ”

For­mer Ra­zor­backs de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robb Smith re­cruited Fisher to Arkansas, but he re­signed af­ter the Belk Bowl and joined Fleck at Min­nesota.

“It is kind of funny that coach Smith is at Min­nesota and I’m not, but I’m glad the way it all worked out,” Fisher said. “I’m re­ally happy to be at Arkansas.”


NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Kyrei Fisher en­rolled at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville in Jan­uary and par­tic­i­pated in spring prac­tice for the Ra­zor­backs.

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