Two months ago, on national signing day for college football recruits, Matt Fischer was met with a pleasant surprise. In a sea of scholarship recipients, he was the only walk-on the University of Wisconsin announced with its signing day class. A place kicker from Appleton (Wis.) East, Fischer had his highlight reel thrust up on the Kohl Center media room’s screen (and the Badgers’ official Web site) among the myriad recruits Badger fans had been bustling about for weeks and months.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Fischer said, a few days after signing day. “Of course, I was happy. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal, getting announced with all those guys.”
Though Fischer is an in-state athlete who lacked Division I scholarship offers, his decision to walk-on at Wisconsin was not a shoo-in. The Badgers’ competition? The Ivy League.
“I know that the Ivy League schools wanted him in the worst way because academically, he’s such an intelligent young man,” East coach Pat Schwanke said.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder is not joining the UW football team this fall with illusions of gridiron grandeur. He is heading to UW-Madison, intent on becoming an M.D., rather than reaching the NFL. He plans to become a physician, with a focus on sports medicine.
When other recruits were plotting official visits, Fischer made the two-hour drive to Madison for an academic visit, and also toured campus on his own. He is in the top three percent of his graduating class and he scored a 35 out of 36 on the ACT.
“He’s also gifted in the classroom,” Schwanke said. “Very focused in terms of improving his ability in the classroom as well as on the football field.”
An elite student, Fischer was also a fine athlete at East. He made 7 of 10 field goal attempts his senior year and put 16 of 22 kickoffs into the end zone. He was also the Patriots’ starting free safety. He actually received interest from some Division II and Division III schools to play safety and kicker, including from Lawrence University in Appleton.
Fischer said he enjoyed playing safety but that he wanted to compete at the scale of football Wisconsin could offer.
“Matt’s been pretty focused on being a D-I player for a long time,” Schwanke said. “Anybody that was aware of him wanted him but he always said, ‘I’m not really interested,’ because he wanted Division I, in terms of the Ivies or the Big Ten, and he wanted that great education.”
Fischer received his opportunity, in part because of a strong showing at a Badger football camp last summer, when he was able to show off his leg strength for UW’s coaching staff, including special teams coach Brian Murphy, who recruited Fischer.
“I talked to coach Brian Murphy and he was really nice throughout the entire recruiting process,” Fischer said. “He kind of put the parameters up on the table and then we just decided to go with the walk-on position from there.”
Last summer, Fischer also attended camps at Michigan and Iowa, as well as the Ray Guy camp in Chicago. In January, Fischer received instruction from his future competition, current Badger scholarship kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, who was serving as an instructor at Chris Sailer’s kicking camp in Las Vegas.
So was Mehlhaff recruiting his competition?
“I don’t think so,” Fischer said. “It’s nice to think that but right now, he has the job.”
As it has turned out, Mehlhaff, who was a kickoff specialist as a true freshman last season, is engaged in a tight competition with walk-on redshirt freshman Adam Schober this spring for the Badgers’ place kicking duties. And do not take Fischer’s deferential tone as a sign that he does not plan on competing.
“He’s going to thrive on this competition with Taylor,” Schwanke said. “He’s just going to thrive on it. That will make him even better.”
“Of course, I would like to get an opportunity to play in the games but right now, I just want to help the Badgers any way the coaches want me to or any way I can,” Fischer said.
Fischer understands his role — compete, improve, make Mehlhaff and Schober work for what they receive, and then, who knows?
“I think just being part of a team is something that I really enjoy and just that sort of feeling,” he said. “Just the opportunity to play with the best guys in the country would be an unbelievable experience to take into whatever career I decide.”