The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa linebacker Kyler Fisher finds progress in the details

Ever since he was a sixth-grade wrestler, the former walk-on has embraced meticulous goals, a habit he carries with him today.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Northwestern punter Hunter Renner punts the ball as Iowa linebacker Kyler Fisher attempts to block it during the 2023 Wildcats Classic, a football game between Iowa and Northwestern at Wrigley Field in Chicago, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 10-7.

Iowa linebacker Kyler Fisher isn’t afraid to design his own future, even when the world around him paints a different picture.

Driving home from Minnesota State University, Mankato with his parents after a visit in December of 2018, Fisher wasn’t as happy with the choice to play football for the Division II school as his parents, Gerald and Heather. 

The pair thought the south-central Minnesota school would be a good fit, but, still a teenager at the time, Fisher had other plans. 

A star two-way player coming out of Southeast Valley High School in Gowrie, Iowa, Fisher had the opportunity to start right away for Minnesota State, but he didn’t want to settle for expectations. Graduating from a Class 2A school whose current enrollment is 336 kids, the then 5 -foot-11, 182-pounder was undersized at his position and didn’t attract much Division I attention. 

Even with offers from Mankato and Upper Iowa, Fisher couldn’t pull his attention from Iowa, which had offered the linebacker a preferred walk-on spot in October of that year. For Fisher, playing for the Hawkeyes would be a different challenge, but nothing he couldn’t conquer. 

“That drive home, he said, ‘A 19-year-old Kyler is going to be way bigger and way stronger than 18-year-old Kyler,’” Heather Fisher told The Daily Iowan. “And I didn’t think about that at all … He knew that he needed that time.”

Committing to Iowa the same month as that car ride, Fisher more than took advantage of that time, hitting the weight room, taking agility training, and honing his athleticism on the wrestling mat and football field. Ever since he was a boy, Fisher never wasted time, as he was constantly motivated to achieve a goal. 

Before he was a three-time state finalist on the mat and first-team all-state member in football, Fisher’s drive to succeed started at one of the first wrestling camps he attended. At that camp, the then-sixth grader learned about goal-setting, planning, and visualization. These lessons left a tangible impact. 

Heather said her son hung a list on his bedroom wall outlining what he wanted to accomplish, such as a certain amount of takedowns, and then meticulously broke down that macro goal into daily tasks. 

“It would be less time on social media, get up earlier, so many pushups before he went to bed,” Heather remembered. “It’s small things, but he always felt like small things are what add to the bigger picture.” 

That bigger picture once revolved around wrestling, but Gerald Fisher said his son’s dream was on the football field. Fisher told his parents in eighth grade he would wrestle throughout high school, but his future was directed at playing football at the collegiate level. 

Now a fifth-year senior measuring 5-foot-11 and 233 pounds, Fisher turned that walk-on spot into a full scholarship prior to his junior season. 

“He took everything he had learned from everything at that point and poured it all into being the best teammate, the best player, and the best person he could be,” Gerald said.  

Quiet physicality 

Gerald said Fisher started wrestling at age six, and then added football to his activities in second grade, joining a flag league before making his way up to tackle.. 

Those two high-contact activities seemed a bit incongruous with Fisher’s quiet demeanor. Gerald said his son didn’t talk a whole lot and would spend his free time on his Nintendo DS solving puzzles. But on the wrestling mat, Fisher’s actions told a different story. 

Lining the floor of the Fishers’ basement was a wrestling mat, which served as the battleground for Fisher and his two brothers, Keaton and Tre. For Gerald, the trio thrived in what could be best described as an anarchy environment. 

“It was kind of every man for himself,” Gerald recalled with a chuckle. “The more physical the matches, the more physical the opponent, he enjoyed that. So I think it was the physicality of it all that attracted him to football.” 

Such physicality was present on the gridiron, as Fisher had no choice but to hit people. As a fifth and sixth grader, Fisher was about one pound over the weight limit, meaning he couldn’t run the ball and had to resort to lining up at defensive end. According to Gerald, his son found enjoyment in overpowering an opponent, but even in his prep days, would always let his performance do the talking. 

‘Who will step up’

For Southeast Valley head varsity football coach Mark Swieter, figuring out who Fisher was took some time. While the linebacker would sometimes “talk your ear off” to the coach, he was still a “very quiet individual,” but one whose determination never waned. 

“He would score a touchdown and get called back for holding, and he wouldn’t say anything negative or anything,” Swieter said. “You just knew that he was going to give you everything he had.”

As a second-year for the Jaguars, Fisher racked up 116 tackles while also rushing for 84 yards on 15 carries. The next season, Fisher’s responsibilities on the offensive side increased, dashing for 793 yards while also factoring into the receiving game, snagging 11 catches for 111 yards. Fisher also played special teams, and Swieter said he couldn’t remember a time the linebacker wasn’t on the field over his final three years at Southeast Valley. 

Yet even with these numbers, the Iowa football coaching staff had to travel all the way to a camp at Lindenwood University in Missouri to realize Fisher had been under their nose for quite a while. Fisher was one of approximately 1,200 kids at the camp, but the then 19-year-old’s hip work and downfield movement stuck out to Hawkeye linebackers coach Seth Wallace.

“I remember when Wallace asked [Fisher] where he was from, and he told him, and [Wallace] said, ‘Are you kidding me? Like, how in the world did I come all the way to St. Louis to see a kid that is from my backyard?’”

Just four months after that camp, the Hawkeyes offered Fisher a preferred walk-on spot. 

That fall, Fisher’s senior season at Southeast Valley, was when the linebacker truly left a mark. 

The Jaguars started off that season with two consecutive wins in dominant fashion, outscoring their foes, 88-14. Then, adversity struck, as the team dropped a double-overtime heartbreaker to Belmond-Klemme and then got crushed by South Central Calhoun, 49-6. 

Sitting at 2-2, Swieter called a team meeting and asked which one of his players was going to step up and deliver the rest of the season. For the coach, Fisher answered that call swiftly and decisively, “putting the team on his shoulder” by rushing for more than 1,000 yards for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. The Jaguars won six consecutive games and finished as district champions. 

On its path to the title, Southeast Valley upset two top-ranked teams. Against then-No. 1 Spirit Lake, Fisher scored on an interception and fumble recovery in a 48-41 triumph. Then, in the opening round of the state playoffs, South East Valley matched up against current Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean and his alma mater of OABCIG. In the 58-42 Jaguar victory, Fisher ran for 316 yards and scored seven touchdowns. 

After beating the Falcons, the Jaguars would eventually fall in the state quarterfinals to Boyden-Hull.

“I’ve never seen an athlete just take over a football team his senior season,” Swieter said. “Don’t get me wrong, we had some other good teammates, but it was what he did. He put us on his back and we rode him.”

Fisher graduated from Southeast Valley as the school record holder in career receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, rushing yards, rushing average, rushing touchdowns, 100-yard games, 200-yard games, 300-yard games, and career tackles. 

“It kept me ready to go,” Fisher said of his high school days playing a variety of positions. “Because I come here [to Iowa] and play every special team, so it’s kind of the same thing. Just always being versatile and ready to go in any situation.” 

It didn’t take long for Fisher’s situation to change at Iowa. 

Walk-on mentality 

Originally committed to the Hawkeyes as a defensive back, Fisher made quite the impression on his teammates, such as linebacker Jay Higgins, who was initially shocked Fisher was in the secondary in the first place. 

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty big defensive back. He should probably be a linebacker,” Higgins, who now rooms with Fisher, said. 

Both first-years at the time, Higgins was paired up with Fisher in a special teams drill, and Higgins bore witness to “the fastest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.” 

Yet to Fisher, his Hawkeye teammates made a similar first impression, which was a little intimidating to handle initially. 

“Everybody here was huge, like gigantic,” Fisher remembers of his first season. “I was like, ‘Holy crap,’ like trying to survive. But I think that freshman year was crucial for me, just being able to see how everybody handled their business at a Division I level.” 

Citing exemplary role models such as fellow Iowa walk-on Jack Koerner, Fisher said he learned to develop a ‘walk-on mentality,’ which he explained as keeping the head down and moving forward, even if others may be against you. 

Redshirting his first year in 2019, Fisher was moved over to linebacker, which he called an “abrupt” change, but a move that ultimately felt more comfortable for him. Under the tutelage of starters Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, Fisher played in 33 games over the next three seasons, mostly on special teams, with 12 total tackles over that span. 

The main highlight of Fisher’s first three playing years came in the regular-season finale at Nebraska in 2021 when the linebacker returned Henry Marchese’s blocked punt 14 yards for a touchdown. 

Fisher said at Iowa football’s media day in 2022 that he still hears about the score back home, adding that he doesn’t remember much from the play until looking up and seeing his father celebrating on the video board. 

“I don’t even know they found me in the stands,” Gerald remembers. “But it was unreal. I was so happy because of all the hard work he had put in at that point.” 

Such a reaction was dwarfed when Fisher told his parents he would be on scholarship prior to the 2022 season. The linebacker recalled how his dad ran out of the house in celebration while his mom began to cry tears of joy. 

 For Fisher’s parents, the news took a little while to fully register. 

“[The team] had some time off for the weekend, and [Fisher] came home, and he was talking about getting a new nickname because he was on scholarship,” Gerald said. “But he just said it really casually in conversation. We had to stop, like, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s talk about this a little more.’”

Fisher’s nonchalant announcement was similar to that of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz when he told the linebacker the news during a preseason practice, pulling him aside during position drills. 

“[Ferentz] was like, ‘Yeah, you’re on scholarship.’ Just made it very mundane, like not a big deal or anything,” Fisher recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m on scholarship, OK.’ I remember going back to the linebacker drills … and Campbell and Benson were both freaking out and hyping me up a lot.” 

“I’m not a big fan of popping out of a cake and saying, ‘You got a scholarship,’ that kind of social media stuff,” Ferentz said. “[Fisher’s] matured physically and mentally, which is what college football is all about, it’s the fun part about it. So there was no question in our mind at that time — he deserved a scholarship.” 

This season, Fisher has played in all ten games, including his first-career start at Penn State in September. He already has career-highs in 16 solo tackles, 7 tackle assists, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and a forced fumble. In his lone start against the Nittany Lions, the linebacker had another career-best with seven total tackles.

In front of a hostile crowd of over 106,000 people, Penn State’s first play from scrimmage targeted Fisher, but the linebacker didn’t flinch. He forced running back Kaytron Allen into the ground for a loss of two yards. 

Just six weeks later, Fisher again found himself making another critical tackle, this time on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line at Wrigley Field. The linebacker stuffed Northwestern quarterback Brendan Sullivan for no gain. 

“That whole series, honestly, was probably one of the best four downs I’ve ever been a part of,” Fisher said, making sure to credit the Hawkeye defensive line for assisting in the stop. 

While Fisher continues to make the plays he did back in his youth days, the 22-year-old still takes the same approach off-the-field. 

Heather said her son currently has a whiteboard hung up in his room in Iowa City, lining out his daily and weekly goals. 

“I’ve always been kind of the bad influence … like, ‘Buddy, life is short, go out or go do this,’” she said. “And he’s so down to the nitty-gritty, like, even now he shuts off his notifications on his phone. It’s still from sixth-grade wrestling.” 

“He’s willing to do whatever it takes. I mean, this kid does every bit of football … from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed. It’s all about what he can do to be a better teammate and a better person.” 

For Gerald, Fisher’s choice to play at Iowa may have been the more difficult option, but was never something his son was going to shy away from. Ultimately, his son is the architect of his future and isn’t going to favor any convenience. 

“It’s no cutting corners,” Gerald said. “He wants to do it the right way. If it’s the hard way, so what? He’s going to do it that way.” 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.