IOWA CITY — For Cole Fisher, this one hits home.
The fifth-year senior who emerged from the depths of the depth chart to become a leader on third-ranked Iowa’s unbeaten football team has no shortage of reasons to be thankful as the Hawkeyes prepare for Friday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Nebraska.
His father, Todd, lettered as a cornerback for the Cornhuskers in 1983.
His brother, Sean, was a three-year letterwinner as a linebacker for Nebraska between the 2009-12 seasons.
“That makes it kind of personal,’’ Fisher said. “Growing up in Nebraska, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to go there. I’m sure every high school player in that state does.’’
Cole Fisher grew up watching games at Memorial Stadium, dreaming about creating his own memories there.
He never got the chance.
Fisher earned all-state honors during his career at Millard North High School in Omaha, Neb., playing running back and free safety on a team which won a state championship in 2010.
However, the Cornhuskers backed off of Fisher during the recruiting process after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a basketball game during his junior year of high school.
Coaches told him they wanted to see how he came back from the injury before they would consider offering him a scholarship.
Nebraska wasn’t alone. Several schools reversed field in their recruitment of Fisher at that point.
Fisher received a telephone call from Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz shortly after he suffered the injury. He expected to hear more of the same.
Instead, the conversation took on a very different tone.
“Coach Ferentz called right after I hurt my knee and said they still wanted me to come to Iowa,’’ Fisher said. “That played a huge part in me making up my mind. They stuck with me. Other schools didn’t.’’
By the time Fisher returned to the football field for his senior season, Nebraska coaches attempted to reconnect.
But the decision had already been made.
“The way Iowa was there for me, at a time when nobody else was, I knew where I wanted to be. That spoke volumes to me about coach Ferentz and the type of coaches that were here, that it wasn’t just lip service,’’ Fisher said. “It was the best decision I ever made.’’
The loyalty Iowa coaches showed in Fisher has been returned by the athlete who is the latest in a long line of “good stories’’ that seem to emerge whenever the Hawkeyes put together the type of season Iowa is enjoying this year.
“At a place like Iowa, you need good stories to emerge along the way if you hope for a team to become special,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a few of those stories over the years, players who emerge late in their careers to do great things and help lead our team.’’
Fisher falls into that category.
He entered his senior season with nine total tackles in his career, many accumulated on special teams and one more than he recorded during Iowa’s season-opening victory over Illinois State.
Fisher made the first start of his career that day, emerging during preseason camp at the weak-side linebacker position he has started at throughout the Hawkeyes’ 11-0 start.
“Cole never gave up,’’ senior free safety Jordan Lomax said. “He kept working and working and believing that eventually good things would happen. I’m sure he’s surprised a lot of people with what he’s done this year, but he hasn’t surprised anybody on the team. He’s really worked to make the most of this season.’’
After shuffling between the three linebacker positions throughout his initial years at Iowa, Fisher was rooted at the weak-side position during preseason and thrived.
Fisher committed himself to making the most of the rest of his football career in much the same way he tackled things in the classroom, where the civil engineering major and three-time academic all-Big Ten selection began the fall semester needing just five credit hours to graduate.
His academic load forced him to miss practice time and many team meetings in the past.
He’s welcomed the time to focus on football to a greater degree this fall.
“I’m doing what I can to walk away from here feeling good about my career and while there is more I want to be a part of before we’re through, I feel like I’ve been able to accomplish that,’’ Fisher said. “It took a long time to get to this point, but it’s all been worth it.’’
One of those things that remains on Fisher’s bucket list this season is to play well against the Cornhuskers, a 5-6 team in need of a win to become bowl eligible when Iowa visits Friday.
The Hawkeyes watched a 17-point second-half lead evaporate a year ago in an overtime loss to Nebraska.
“That made it a little tough to go home,’’ Fisher said. “We learned a pretty hard lesson that day. Personally, it would be good to turn that around. That was the type of loss that still stings.’’
Fisher ranks second on the Hawkeye tackle charts with 92 stops this season including 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He has broken up four passes, forced a fumble and recorded three quarterback hurries.
He hopes for more Friday.
“This is the one I’ll have to live with forever,’’ Fisher said.