MISSOULA — It is pretty tough to go from a small-town football program to the NCAA Division-I level.
Just ask Troy’s Jace Fisher.
Montana State discovered the 6-foot-5, 300-pound prospect while watching Drummond-Philipsburg (Flint Creek) star Kade Cutler on film. They wondered who the big guy was with the agile moves and the freakish athleticism hiding in a town of 930 people and at the 8-Man level.
It was not long before Montana State special teams coordinator B.J. Robertson started calling. Months later, Fisher committed as part of the Class of 2021.
“They gave me a special, like warm feeling and it just immediately felt like my next home,” Fisher said on Wednesday. “I wanted to go D-I and I wanted stay in Montana. This is my home and they made it work.”
Ask Fisher when he first realized he was the biggest kid on the field and he’ll pause for a moment before thinking back to football in 7th grade. As he is now, he was a captain while in middle school and took part in the pre-game coin toss.
Walking out to the center of the field, he looked around.
“I’m like, I’m just looking out over all of these other kids,” Fisher said. “I’m looking right over their heads. I’m thinking, I’m just a lot bigger than these other kids. That’s also when I realized I was probably gonna be a lineman. That was my position.”
Robertson asked which side of the ball Fisher would prefer to be on (defensive) and that’s where the Troy senior-to-be feels he’ll probably fit in the best.
Imagining a front-line duo of Fisher and Butte Central grad Aaron Richards, who is also headed to Montana State, should be tantalizing for Bobcat fans. Fisher has played both defensive tackle and defensive end for Troy, but prefers the tackle spot.
Fisher, though, will play wherever you need him to be. During his time at Troy, he’s also played center, guard, tackle and fullback on the offense as well as at long snapper on special teams.
Yes, a 300-pound fullback. And he got carries too, once scoring 11 points against Victor.
Trojan head coach Luke Haggerty even designed a few plays where Fisher was eligible to catch the ball.
“I have really good hands. A few plays we had this season I actually got to go out and run some routes a little bit … oh, man, it was different,” Fisher said. “The first time I was nervous. What if I don’t catch it? I was really nervous, but after that, it was like a dream come true.
“It’s always a big man’s dream to catch and run with the ball.”
It’s not just Fisher saying that either, his coach had high-praise for his offensive ability.
“He could probably, if we were playing 11-man football, he’d probably be a tight end for us,” Haggerty said. “He’s pretty quick for his size.”
Haggerty, who is entering his third year as Troy’s head coach, also has perhaps the best compliment a coach can give a player — he let Fisher help coach. Last season, two of the assistant coaches on Haggerty’s staff were first responders and occasionally would both get out on the same call.
Enter Fisher, who would then take over the lineman, helping coach the younger kids. Troy often goes to Montana Tech’s team camp over the summer, which brings the players into contact with college coaches. Fisher and Haggerty learned a lot from those camps.
“Everything that the coaches were saying he’d just soak up and if I was trying to remember a drill or something, he’d know exactly what it was, how it was supposed to be done and what the purpose was of it,” Haggerty said. “He’s just a sponge when it comes to football knowledge.”
While Fisher is excited at what is ahead, he is truly appreciative as to how far he has come. As far as he knows, he is just the third student-athlete from Troy to make the NCAA Division I level for football.
“Honestly, coming from a small town like Troy, Montana, there aren’t a lot of, I wouldn’t say opportunities, but it’s harder to find them,” Fisher said. “It’s a bummer because I know how hard it is to go to a D-I from a small town. But honestly my biggest challenge was just proving to people that I could do this and belong.”
It can be hard getting looks in a small town and there are other pressures as well, with Fisher’s sophomore year starting off tough. Grades kept him out of the first two games of the season, but since that point he has been on-point with his studies, never dropping below a 3.0 GPA.
He learned a lot that sophomore year.
“My sophomore year rolled around and that’s when I started stepping up and becoming a lot more responsible,” Fisher said. “Especially I was learning, learning the game more, following the people ahead of me. But that sophomore year really opened my eyes.”
With COVID-19 disrupting his summer plans of going to a couple football camps, Fisher has been hard at work in the Troy weight room and on the field. There is still a lot learn but his coaches are noticing exactly what he’s doing as he prepares to enter his senior year of high school.
“His work ethic has been phenomenal especially the last two years, just the improvement he had during his junior year and this summer has just been incredible as far as always wanting to be in the weight room, always gathering guys up to go to different workouts,” Haggerty said. “His work ethic is incredible.”