The memory that still haunts Missouri fans is the same memory that Parrish Fisher will cherish for the rest of his life.
Two years ago, MU traveled to Manhattan, Kan., to play Kansas State in the final Big 12 Conference game of the season. The Tigers needed a win over the Wildcats to give them a chance to win the Big 12 North. It shouldn’t have been close.
But on the Tuesday before they played, legendary K-State coach Bill Snyder announced he would be retiring after the game against MU. It was a shocking announcement, and the Wildcats went on to play their most inspired game of the year. After an emotional comeback win, the K-State players hoisted Snyder on their shoulders and carried him off the field for the last time.
Fisher, a redshirt freshman running back at the time, was on the K-State sideline, watching it all.
“That was one of the most memorable moments of my career,” he said. “That’s something you remember for all time.”
It was supposed to be just one of the many magical moments Fisher would experience at K-State. But after a career-threatening knee injury the following spring and subsequent off-the-field troubles, it would end up being his last. Now he is starting over at Illinois State, where he hopes to prove both his knee and his attitude are better than ever.
In 2003, Fisher was one of the top running back prospects in the country. He rushed for 1,914 yards his senior season at J.J. Pearce High in Richardson, Texas, and drew comparisons to future Oklahoma standout Adrian Peterson. The recruitment letters filled Fisher’s mailbox, and he chose K-State because of Snyder and the tradition.
After sitting out all of 2004, Fisher shot out of the backfield like a cannon the following year, , totaling 247 rushing yards in K-State’s three nonconference games.
His role was drastically reduced during conference play, but he still finished as the team’s second-leading rusher. And after the Wildcats closed their season with the gut-wrenching win over MU, Fisher was crowned as the back who would help lead K-State back to greatness.
Then he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during spring practice, and his 2006 season was over.
“It was very difficult because I was having a good spring at the time,” Fisher said. “I was looking forward to coming into next season and building off the year before.”
The rehab program Fisher underwent was excruciating. He never gelled with new coach Ron Prince, and when new recruits emerged, Fisher was pushed to the back of the line. Two weeks before K-State’s bowl game against Rutgers, Fisher’s frustration boiled over when he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct in Manhattan’s Aggieville bar area.
A few days later, Fisher wasn’t at practice. Prince announced he was no longer on the team.
“I just think that after the injury, a lot of things went downhill from that point,” Fisher said. “And that all kind of had an effect on how I acted.”
He went back home for the spring semester knowing this wasn’t how his career would end. He wanted to play for a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-AA) school so he wouldn’t have to sit out a year. He also wanted to go somewhere where he could win. That led him to Illinois State, a school that finished 9-4 last year and lost to Fisher’s Wildcats by just one point in the first game of last season.
“I’m the type of person that always wants to win,” he said. “I saw what they did last year, and I just felt that I would fit in good here.”
When Fisher visited the campus, he didn’t need to introduce himself to Redbirds coach Denver Johnson. Johnson already knew who he was.
“We remembered that he was a pretty highly thought of running back coming out of high school,” he said. “We were a little concerned about his knee, but he came and went through practice here and we felt comfortable with it and felt like he could be a good addition to the team.”
Fisher enrolled in classes, and it was like going on a second honeymoon. He has been getting along great with his teammates and is a joy to be around, Johnson said. He’s also regained his form from 2005, rushing for 112 yards against Murray State two weeks ago.
“I’m feeling like this is where I belong,” Fisher said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing, so I feel good to be back playing football because that’s what I do. That’s me.”
On Saturday, Fisher will come full circle when the Redbirds come to Columbia. But unlike the first time he played the Tigers, Fisher said this will be the beginning, not the end, of something magical.
“I’ve never really experienced the kind of down that I had when I had that injury,” he said. “But I think the fact that I was able to bounce back, get back here and put it behind me, I feel like I’m a stronger person. I feel like if I can go through that, I can go through anything.”