He’s only 6-feet tall. His bio says he weighs 221 pounds. I’m sure he hears it all the time: "You play linebacker? You’re small!"
Trust me, I can relate.
He may be undersized, but Arizona’s Jake Fischer has a big heart and a huge appetite to succeed. He earned All-Pac-12 honors for his play on the field and Pac-12 first team All-Academic status for his dedication to his studies and is the heartbeat of an improved Arizona Wildcats defense.
With Arizona visting Washington on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, FOX), I interviewed Fischer, who has become one of my favorite college football players. I think you’ll find it hard not to root for him, too. He’s fun to watch on the field (it’s like watching a pit bull on Red Bull), and his genuine character and selfless attitude are of the most rare kind, the kind of which we will never have enough in sports.
Coy Wire: You’ve learned from many teachers, coaches, etc. Is there anything that someone told you or taught you that has impacted your life? A lesson learned? Anything that has shaped the Jake we see today?
Jake Fischer: Preparation. I learned about that from my parents, Brett and Sue. They taught me how to manage sports with school. If I didn’t have straight A’s growing up they wouldn’t allow me to go to practice until my grades were up. Preparation is about priorities. Now, with football, with great teams that have many different ways to attack you, preparation is key.
CW: Watching film of you, you don’t play with a chip on your shoulder. You play like somebody dumped an entire bag of chips on you. Why?
JF: I’ve been told ever since I got into high school that I was too small, too short. That started even when I was playing basketball, playing power forward. I took it personally. I was going to out-rebound everybody. I like hearing people say I can’t do something. I embrace being the forgotten one. I love showing out and the reaction it gets when people see me do what nobody ever thought I could.
CW: When your playing days are over and your old Wildcat teammates are spread out across the country talking about the good ol’ days, what do you want them to say when they talk about the LB they used to play ball with, the ol’ Jake Fischer?
JF: I would like them to say that I was a leader, that studied and did everything I could to help the team win and that I left everything on the field. But right now, I don’t try for all that right now. I just focus on all the little things knowing that the big things will come.
CW: What does your defensive coordinator, Coach Casteel, do or say to motivate you? Does he have a mantra or any particular saying that resonates with you the most?
JF: He preaches running to ball EVERY day. He says it makes it a bit more acceptable when you mess up if you were going all-out on that play. "Loafs" are a huge no-no, no matter who you are — seniors, captains, he doesn’t care. He does a great job of keeping us hungry. Coach Casteel coaches with fire, and we’ve tried to mirror it. Guys are competing at levels they didn’t think they could play at.
CW: How about your head coach, coach RichRod?
JF: He wants to win every single play. Even though we know we won’t win every play, coach says if we approach it that way we will mentally wear down the other team — even the best teams who are more talented. We’ll have a chance. This year it’s the defense’s turn to step it up. We’ve returned everyone.
CW: Your defense has been impressive on third down, allowing offenses to convert only 32 percent of the time. Your defense is averaging over five three-and-outs per game. What’s different this year?
JF: Our first two games were great. The last game was not as good as we would have liked because of mental errors. Coach Casteel has us focusing more on "attention to details" this year. Last year was the first year in a new system. We had a lot of mistakes. We were just trying to learn the basics. We have fewer mistakes this year, because we have a better understanding of the scheme and coach Casteel and the defensive staff have done a great job of teaching us about how teams are attacking us.
CW: What are you guys doing better or differently this year to get more pressure on the QB?
JF: First of all, we’re a year stronger under our strength and conditioning program. We’re able to apply more pressure because there aren’t as many voids personnel-wise. Coach is able to dial up more blitzes. He has more trust because of player responsibility. Last year we had to be much more much more vanilla.
CW: What are your thoughts about UW offense — what do they do well?
JF: They get a play off about every 14 seconds, so we’re very aware of that. Their O-line has improved a lot. They’re using a lot of 1-on-1 man blocking schemes. And they let Bishop pick where to hit. There’s no set hole for him to hit pre-snap.
CW: Who impresses you most?
JF: Bishop Sankey. He was a good back last year, but he’s improved so much. That’s who we really need to control.
CW: UW is pretty balanced. What’s Coach Casteel saying about this O?
JF: We need to take away the run and let the DBs take care of the rest.
CW: Your offense was more pass-centric last year. After three games it was top-10 in the nation in pass yards per game. This year, so far, it’s more run-centric, ranking top-10 in the nation in rush yards per game. Does Arizona have a completely different type of offensive attack this year?
JF: We passed so much last year because we were in high-scoring games, especially in the second half of the season. A lot of that was on us, on the defense. When our offensive coordinator knows we’re not going to give up 35 points each game, he can run the ball more. That’s what we want to be able to do.
CW: Is your new quarterback, B.J. Denker, ready for a breakout game?
JF: He hasn’t been put in a situation where he needs to go out and sling it yet, but I think he’s ready.
CW: Who’s going to have a big game this week on offense? On defense?
JF: On offense, it’s a tie between Ka’Deem Carey and, if they load box, Denker. He’s ready to have a big game. On defense, Tevin Hood is steadily impressing, keeping blockers off of LBs, and he’s quick on his feet for a big man. People don’t realize that. He will be a huge component for us stopping the run.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What sound or noise do you love?
A big tackle when you hit a guy just perfectly and you feel nothing — you only hear it.
What sound or noise do you hate?
That loud horn noise at Oregon when they make a big play. Ugh. I hate that noise.
"A Gameplan for Life" by John Wooden.
What is your power animal?
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see play the lead role?
I’m gonna go with Mark Wahlberg.
If you could be a superhero, what would you want your one superpower to be?
I’d want to fly.
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not, living or not, real or fictional, with whom would it be?
Batman. Definitely Batman.
Three words to describe yourself?
Hard to beat.
Coy Wire played college football at Stanford before spending nine years in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons. He currently is a college football analyst for FOX and resides in Atlanta. You can follow him on Twitter here.