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Dylan Fisher fashioning a superb season for Grenadiers

June 28, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Perhaps not surprisingly, for Dylan Fisher the highlight of the Ontario Varsity Football League season so far was a come-from-behind victory in May over the Cumberland Panthers.

The Kingston Grenadiers quarterback was instrumental in that win, as his dramatic 52-yard touchdown pass to Nate Thompson with less than two minutes to play was the go-ahead score.

“They usually have their corner and (halfback) low,” Fisher vividly recalled of the play. “They do that a lot on film, and their safety doesn’t help out on the corner very much, so it was there for the taking.”

It was a remarkably precise detail and Fisher admits he mightn’t have spotted it a year ago. “Probably not,” he said. “I would have been a little bit behind the mental part of it, that’s for sure.”

Not any more.

Talk to anyone around the Grenadiers about Fisher’s play this year and you get the same sort of answer — he’s playing the game smarter, he understands it better, he’s learned so much.

“He’s a real student of the game,” said Grenadiers coach Bob Mullen. “Warren’s doing a great job teaching and Dylan’s really stepped up his learning and is developing into a really nice little quarterback.”

The aforementioned Warren, offensive co-ordinator Warren Goldie, concurs.

“He’s in complete command and control of our offence,” Goldie says. “He knows it; he understands it; he executes it. He’s making better decisions.

“I would say last year he probably pre-determined where the ball went, where, this year, he’s reading and understanding the whole concept of the route, and knowing how it influences the defence.”

Fisher went to school during the winter, working on his footwork and watching game video like he’d never done before. It was an eye-opener to learn how much could be gleaned from film study, he said, “how defences can show what they’re doing.”

“The way they line up in pre-snap, shows you what (defence) they’re in, and you kind of know what they’re going to do. Without the film, you miss all that stuff.”

Fisher’s improvement can easily be quantified. Last year he completed 63 of 143 passes — a fairly undistinguished completion percentage of .441 — for 856 yards. This year, already with six fewer attempts (137) he’s completed nine more passes (72), for a much more respectable success percentage of .526.

That those passes have gone for 1,183 yards suggests Fisher is throwing the ball to places where receivers can do more once they catch it, a theory supported by the fact he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns this year, four more than the seven he threw all last summer.

Here’s the really telling statistic: Last year, when he threw 17 of them, the interception was the bane of Fisher’s existence; this year he has been, as Goldie says, “keeping it in our pockets,” throwing to the other team just twice in five games so far.

Goldie said critics fixating on Fisher’s interceptions in 2013 were missing the point. “He had a lot of bad luck,” Goldie said, “and when it starts to snowball it’s hard to stop.”

Goldie gave an example. In the fall, Fisher was playing for his Sydenham High School team in a game at La Salle and at an important point late in the game, he was intercepted deep in La Salle territory.

“He had the play, the receiver was there, he delivered the ball,” Goldie said, “and the receiver fell down. The (La Salle) guy stepped up and intercepted it and everybody went, ‘Well, here we go again.’

“It wasn’t Dylan’s fault the guy fell down.”

Mullen said there’s a remarkable rapport between coach and athlete, and that has been the main factor in reducing the interceptions.

“It is an indication of teaching and learning,” Mullen said. “You can teach your butt off but the learning has to be happening, as well. He and Warren talk a lot when he comes off the field, and at practice, and he’s starting to see things very well. He knows where to go with the ball. If you know where to go, you’re not throwing it into the hot spots.

“And the kids have been catching, too. It’s probably been the best group of receivers, in terms of hanging onto the ball, that I’ve seen us have in my time.”

Goldie describes the improvement in Fisher’s play as “astronomical.”

“Even sometimes when we roll the snap back, he picks it up and throws to the right guy.

“That just tells me he’s understanding what (he sees). Pre-snap he sees the shade of the defender, knows what’s going to be open and commits to it. This year he’s throwing balls away, so if it’s not exactly what he wanted he’ll throw it away and get another down (as opposed to) making a dumb decision, tying to make a play out of something that’s not working.

“His arm strength has gotten a lot better, too. His feet are better, therefore his arm is better.”

Fisher says he’s noticed a difference.

“It’s nice,” he said. “Me and the receivers, we’re more mature, thinking about the game, and not just playing. It’s a big turnaround, for sure. It just comes with the repetitions.”

There’s a simple explanation for curing the interception bug, Fisher said. “I think it’s just me getting smarter as a football player; learning more about defences and where the hot reads are. The coaches here, Warren and the rest of the staff, have helped me a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Fisher, who lives just outside Elginburg, will be returning to Sydenham for his final year of high school ball in the fall.

“I love the kid,” Mullen said. “He’s handled a lot of adventure. We’ve had some trouble getting the ball back to him all season. He’s been jumping up over his head or picking it up off the floor and getting the job done.

“He’s shown a lot of poise. He throws a nice ball and is really developing an understanding of the game.”

Goldie said that in the development of young quarterbacks, there’s almost always a point at which the light goes on in terms of their grasp of how to play the position. That’s where Fisher is now.

“He understands the whole concept of all the routes. He’s a listener and he’s a thinker. I ask him questions and I don’t answer them for him. He answers my questions correctly. He asks deep questions: ‘What if they do this, should we have him do that?’ It’s usually on the spot; he’s right about it.”

Goldie says the other players on the team pick up on that.

“We’re pretty green,” he said, “We lost some of our better players for various reasons and we got out late in the spring. (At the start) they were lining up wrong; they didn’t understand basic formations.

“We had an exhibition game in Belleville, and with a very simple formation, guys were lined up wrong. I thought, ‘This is going to be a long year,’ but all of a sudden they all got it. Their spacing is right, their route running is more defined, and I think it’s because they think they’ve got a chance. As a group, they’re all believing, and I have to think they’re believing in him.”

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