Eric Fisher may have believed that he was worth the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but he had to work exceptionally hard over the last few years to bring followers to that cause.
“I think I answered all the questions," he said soon after the Kansas City Chiefs gave him that honor. "Coming out of a small school, obviously people are going to have questions. What kind of competition did he face? What kind of athlete is he? I think I proved myself at the Senior Bowl, the combine, pro day. … I think I answered all the questions.”
The road ahead is filled with potential, but the road taken was far from a sure thing.
On one of his college visits as a high school recruit, the 18-year-old Fisher drove six hours from his home in Rochester Hills, Michigan to talk with an NCAA coach of some renown. When Fisher arrived, the coach wished him luck, but said that he had to skip the visit because he had a golf outing.
"Yeah, it was a little frustrating," Fisher told Y! Sports this week, during a media tour for Tide detergent. "Obviously, he's probably kicking himself."
One can only assume that the coach, who Fisher would not name, spent a lot of time in the last year doing just that. Fisher was a lightly-regarded prospect -- a 230-pound tackle out of Stoney Creek High -- but even he was surprised by the lack of interest he received from the big schools. Shut out of the Big 10, Fisher weighed offers from Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, and chose the latter. Just a few years later, Fisher heard his name called as the first overall pick in the NFL draft. And in the end, Fisher felt most at home where he wound up.
"It just all felt right," he said of his time at Central Michigan. "I really liked the coaching staff at the time. Just the atmosphere of that school. The game-day atmosphere ... our stadium only holds 30,000 people, but at the same time, it feels like one of those big-day atmospheres, so it was nice. "
The one person who was always at his side through the process was his mother, Heidi Langegger, who raised him as a single parent. Fisher's father was in the picture, but he lived a few hours away, and it was up to Ms. Langegger to be her son's primary voice of support and validation when few others believed in his football future.
"I think part it comes with a work ethic, and bringing Eric up with a strong work ethic," she said of her son's current success. "Nothing in life is free. I had looked into the different one-a-day camps, sent him out there, and wanted him to know that if he wants something bad enough, then you work for it, anything is possible. And for Eric, his work ethic, even when he was in high school, every morning, 5:00 a.m., whether they had to be there or not, he was working out on the football field or in the weight room and he was very dedicated. It's something he wanted, and he went after it, and he's obtaining his dream."
She taught him that work ethic while working as a data analyst for Volkswagen, looking at failure rates on the different technical components on cars. Even as her son's "failure rate" started to dissipate when he became a star in college, and excelled at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, she let him know that he should retain the character that got him there.
"I think there's a difference of my life changing – I don't want to change, and I don't want Eric to change," she said. "I want him to stay true to who he is. He's a hard-working young man. This is a huge blessing for him, for me, and it makes me really proud to say Eric's, you know, he's turned out to be a great man. As for changing our life, there's no denying that, you know, in the NFL, he's going to have a much bigger paycheck than I've ever seen in my entire lifetime, but it shouldn't change us. I think that's important to stay grounded."
One thing that will change, and Ms. Langegger has already agreed to it, is that she will never have to work another day in her life. It was the least the son could do for his mother, and that was decided a while ago.
"Eric sat me down and said 'Mom, you knew this is going to happen'," she remembered. "I said 'Yeah, I realize that, Eric,' and he said, 'I want you to retire'. And I said 'Okay'. I am going to enjoy it. I live in the country on some acreage and I want to do some gardening and I guess, at this point in my life, I'm going to do what I want to do. This has really been great for us. Eric had mentioned that Tide brought us in yesterday, and we've been traveling around all of New York City, different radio stations, and TV stations. Wanted to say 'Thank you' to Tide. I've always used Tide, as far back as I can remember, and it's done great for Eric, with all the dirty clothes he brings home from football, especially the ones that he forgot to take out of his duffel bags. It's wonderful, and I have to say I'm very proud of Eric.
Fisher said that he had no clue whether the Chiefs would take him, and that he just had to keep his head on straight. It was easy to see where he got that mentality. As to what the Chiefs will get? Fisher let loose with the list of attributes.
"I'll bring my work ethic. I just want to play football. I take pride in what I do. I take pride in not letting the quarterback get touched and put rushing yards up. Rushing is a very important part of football. You can't really pass the ball if you can't run the ball. They're getting a very hard worker and a player who takes pride in what he does."
No question about it, but playing left tackle in the NFL isn't as tough as raising a son as a single mom. Even when Eric Fisher starts stoning professional defensive ends on Sundays, he'll have to work a while to be the toughest person in his family.
"I think he turned out pretty good," Heidi Langegger said of her son, and the journey in raising him. "One time he even said I did a good job. It's doable. It can be done. It's the same as Eric going to a small school.
"If you put your mind to it, if you're dedicated, hard-working, and have a good work ethic, anything is possible."
Obviously, Eric Fisher listened to his mom. And look where he is now.