In the fall of 2005, Eric Fisher — the tallest, and probably skinniest, freshman football player at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek — showed up and was given his equipment.
On the freshman team, he played quarterback, outside linebacker and punter.
Because Stoney Creek two-platoons on the varsity, Fisher remained an outside linebacker on the varsity as a sophomore and junior — as well as the team’s punter — as he continued to grow.
In the spring of his junior year, Fisher, then the tallest kid in the program, casually mentioned something to coach Calvin Gross. He had made a decision, one which placed him on a path that could culminate in being a top-five pick in this week’s NFL draft.
“I want to play college football,” Fisher said.
Gross nodded and told him it was certainly possible, but something needed to change for the youngster, who was about 6-feet-6 at the time.
“I told him if he was going to play college football he was not going to be an outside linebacker, he was not going to be a punter, he was going to be a lineman,” Gross said. “I could tell he was all bummed out when he looked at me.”
Who wouldn’t be?
You spend your entire career in a high-profile position like quarterback or linebacker, and now they expect you to move to the trenches with the big uglies? Hey, they wanted him to become a big ugly.
“I told him if he played on the line — he had great feet, he was a good basketball player, he moved real well,” Gross said. “I said he could play offensive line in college.”
Fisher had concerns. Forget that he knew nothing about blocking — he had never even been in a three-point stance in his life.
“Don’t worry,” Gross said. “I’ll work with you.”
Five years later, you could say Fisher has learned a thing a two about playing offensive tackle.
Now 6-7, 306 pounds, he has learned so much that Thursday evening he could be one of the first five players taken in the NFL draft, which will make him a millionaire and Butch Jones a clairvoyant.
Here’s how Fisher, who never weighed more than 238 pounds in high school, went from never having played offensive tackle to being a three-year starter at Central Michigan to being a top-rated left tackle in this draft.
From camper to college player
Shortly after Fisher told Gross he wanted to be a college player, colleges were hosting one-day camps. Gross knew those were must-attend events for Fisher.
Gross took Fisher to an area outside his office and taught him how to get into a three-point stance. Baby steps.
Then he taught him how to fire out of the stance on the snap of the ball. He showed him how to hit blocking shields.
Then it was off to Eastern Michigan for its one-day camp.
Gross figured Fisher would impress the coaches, but what happened shocked him.
“He went to Eastern Michigan and he just took charge,” Gross said. “He got in the front of the line on every drill. When we got done, the Eastern coaches came to me. They said: ‘This is unbelievable. We don’t even know who Eric Fisher is. We’re going to offer him a full-ride scholarship.’ “
No college coach knew who Fisher was. The only tackle of note in that class appeared to be Detroit Cass Tech’s Will Campbell, a five-star recruit who had committed to Michigan.
Both Rivals.com and Scout.com ranked Fisher a two-star recruit. Scout had him the No. 132 offensive guard in the nation. Rivals did not list him among the top 95 tackles or top 85 guards.
Next up was Western’s one-day camp at North Farmington. The Western coaches were impressed, but said since there was no film of him as an offensive lineman they wanted to see game film of him from his senior season.
Gross could not attend Central’s one-day camp with Fisher, so the youngster drove to Mt. Pleasant on his own.
At the end of day, Gross received a phone call from then-Central coach Butch Jones, now at Tennessee.
“Hey, Coach Gross, we got Fish here in my office and we’re not letting him go back to Stoney Creek,” Jones told him. “He’s staying right here. He’s going to be with us.’ “
Jones offered Fisher a scholarship on the spot, but secretly Fisher was hoping to receive an offer from Purdue because he was interested in the school’s engineering program.
However, the day Fisher attended camp at Purdue, the offensive line coach told the campers he was going to play in a golf tournament and his graduate assistant was going to oversee the linemen.
No offer came from Purdue, but that was fine with Fisher. When Gross asked him what he wanted to do, Fisher told him he wanted to commit to Central.
“He’s an outdoors kid,” Gross said. “He loves hunting; he likes fishing. He’s not a big-time kid in the sense of city life. He likes cutting trees down.”
Fisher had a solid senior season at Stoney Creek considering he had never before played offensive tackle. He improved from game to game and capped off his season with a dominating performance in a victory over Farmington Hills Harrison.
“That was the film they used when Central announced their kids,” Gross said of signing day. “They showed some plays and he was driving kids out of the way.”
A star in Lions’ backyard
Gross and Fisher have had a close relationship. Instead of eating lunch in the cafeteria, Fisher would eat in Gross’ office when they talked about a multitude of things other than football.
After football season ended in Fisher’s senior year, Gross said he heard Fisher was not going to play basketball.
Fisher confirmed it, saying he wanted to lift weights and prepare for college football.
“I told him he was playing basketball,” Gross said. “He had made a commitment to the team; he was a captain. He asked what if he got hurt. I told him he wasn’t getting hurt.”
Jones attended a Stoney Creek basketball game and that is when Gross began to realize the type of prospect he had on his hands.
“I can’t believe how good an athlete he is,” Jones told Gross. “This kid’s going to be a millionaire. He’s got all the tools that the pros want.”
Gross shook his head in amazement.
“Even then I didn’t believe him,” Gross said. “I was hoping he could start at Central.”
Fisher played in eight games as a true freshman, starting two, started the last nine games of his sophomore year and the rest is history.
Over his four years at Central, Fisher was a frequent visitor at Stoney Creek.
Gross remembers a conversation the two had after CMU’s appearance in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl at Ford Field.
“Eric said that his goal was to go down to Florida and do training with Tom Shaw and he wanted to be in the top 10 of the first round,” he said. “My thought was if he was in the first round, that was awesome, and now he was talking about the top 10.”
Now draft experts are talking about a spot in the top five.
Guess who has the No. 5 pick? The Detroit Lions.
As it became apparent over his final two years that Fisher had the potential to play in the NFL, Gross frequently asked him what team he would like to play for.
“He always said: ‘I want to play for the Lions,’ ” Gross said. “I’d say: ‘Don’t you want to play for somebody that you have a chance to win?’ He said: ‘Coach, I love the Lions.’ “
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
We have a bunch of chats for you leading up to the NFL draft this week. Click on the name to submit a question: Michael Atkinson of Boise State and Windsor (1 p.m. Monday), Darren Keyton of CMU (1 p.m. Tuesday), Latavius Murray of UCF (11 a.m. Wednesday), Joe Glendening of Hillsdale (noon Wednesday), Reid Fragel of Grosse Pointe and OSU (1 p.m. Wednesday) and Lions writer Dave Birkett (11 a.m. Thursday). Also join us for live blogs of the first three rounds.
More Details: Fisher facts
Who: CMU tackle Eric Fisher.
Why: He’s projected to be one of the top picks in the first round of the NFL draft.
Vitals: 22, 6-7, 306.
High school: Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.
Did you know? Fisher was voted third-team All-America by the Associated Press in 2012. The Chippewas’ offense averaged 6.2 yards a play while allowing just 15 sacks in 13 games.
Return of the MAC
Eric Fisher would be just the ninth MAC player in the past 30 drafts to be taken in the first round. The other eight:
DE, Toledo by Broncos (11th)
WR, Marshall by Vikings (21st)
OT, EMU by Cardinals (21st)
QB, Marshall by Jets (18th)
QB, Marshall by Jaguars (7th)
LB, WMU by Texans (27th)
QB, Miami (Ohio) by Steelers (11th)
OT, CMU by 49ers (28th)