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'Mean' linebacker refuses to be 'nail'

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

Arkansas linebacker Kyrei Fisher takes part in a drill Saturday, April 1, 2017, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Freshman linebacker Kyrei Fisher brings a physical presence to the Arkansas Razorbacks' defense.

"Kyrei doesn't have any fear of hitting people," Razorbacks inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said. "That's not a problem for him at all.

Kyrei Fisher at a glance

CLASS Freshman

POSITION Linebacker

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-1, 234 pounds

HOMETOWN Tulsa

HIGH SCHOOL Union

AGE 18 (born Sept. 17, 1998)

NOTEWORTHY Working as a backup at the weak-side and middle linebacker spots in training camp. … Enrolled early and went through spring practice. … Consensus three-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247sports. … Also had scholarship offers from Minnesota, Michigan State and Colorado. … Had 65 tackles, including 8 sacks, last season playing as an outside linebacker. … Parents are Kelly Sunday and the late Deatrick Fisher.

"Now we've just got to make sure he's hitting the right people."

Fisher played in the 3-4 defense -- which Arkansas switched to this season from the 4-3 -- at Tulsa Union High School, but he is working at a new position.

[HOG FUTURES: Stories, photos of all the new members of the Razorback team]

At Union, Fisher was an outside linebacker. At the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he's an inside linebacker.

"I'm familiar with the 3-4 defense, but since I hadn't played inside linebacker before I got here, it's definitely different," Fisher said. "It's an adjustment for me, but the coaches are doing a great job of showing me everything I need to know to be successful.

"I'm just trying to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can every day."

Fisher, 6-1 and 234 pounds, has been working with the third-team defense in training camp. He had six tackles in the Aug. 5 scrimmage.

During the open portion of Saturday's scrimmage, he got some work with the second-team defense and recorded two tackles.

"Kyrei's big, he's strong, he's fast," Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "He needs to acquire more knowledge so he can take those traits and play that way from snap through the whistle."

Hargreaves has given Fisher work at both the weak-side and middle linebacker spots.

"I think he's got the physical ability to get it done," Hargreaves said. "Now it's just a matter of him being able to execute the defense and do the things that we coach."

Fisher said he's fine playing either inside linebacker spot.

"At Mike you're making the calls," he said. "It's kind of like being the quarterback of the defense. Will is the person that makes all the tackles.

"So it's really a win-win situation. I don't have a preference. I just want to play."

Fisher had 65 tackles, including eight sacks, last season when he helped Union win the Oklahoma Class 6A state championship.

"Kyrei was an excellent player for us," Union Coach Kirk Fridrich said. "He really put together a great senior year and created a lot of problems for our opponents.

"He made a lot of plays and also was a great teammate and leader. He's a guy that just enjoys playing the game and has a lot of athletic ability and strength. I'm excited to see what he's going to do at Arkansas."

Fisher said he's always loved playing defense because he gets to hit. He said being on offense at a position such as tight end or running back never interested him.

"I don't care about being one of those pretty boys on offense," he said, laughing. "I'm the type of guy that wants to take those guys' heads off.

"You're either going to be the hunter or be the hunted, and I want to be the hunter. You're going to be the hammer or you're going to be the nail, and I refuse to be nail.

"Anybody that's man enough to step up against me, I'm going to punish him for it. That's just how I feel. That's been put into my brain from the time I was young to now, and nothing is going to change that."

Fisher's fellow Arkansas freshmen can attest to his mindset.

"Off the field Kyrei's really a nice guy, but on the field he just flips a switch and gets real mean," running back Maleek Williams said. "I think he's going to be a beast for the defense."

Offensive tackle Shane Clenin said he likes going against Fisher in practice.

"When you hit Kyrei, if you're not matching his energy already, you have to quick," Clenin said. "It'll throw you for a loop if you're not ready for it.

"I haven't heard him say a word on the field, unless it's making a call. You never hear him talking or laughing or anything. He's just -- bam! -- locked in.

"I'm very excited to see how he ends up as a player here later down the road."

Fisher committed to Minnesota in the spring before his senior year at Union, but he was happy when Arkansas began recruiting him in the fall.

After taking an official visit to Arkansas on Nov. 12 -- when the Razorbacks beat Florida 31-10 -- and being offered a scholarship, Fisher committed to the Razorbacks on Dec. 19.

Fisher said a big reason he signed with Arkansas is because it's an SEC school less than a two-hour drive from Tulsa.

"My family means a lot to me, so being so close to home is important," he said. "And who doesn't want to go to the SEC? The best players are in the SEC, so coming here just made sense."

Going to Minnesota also became less attractive because the football program became engulfed in controversy resulting from a sexual assault investigation that led to the suspension of 10 players Dec. 10.

Minnesota's other players threatened to boycott the Holiday Bowl against Washington State, although they backed down and the Golden Gophers beat the Cougars 17-12.

Tracy Claeys was fired as Minnesota's coach on Jan. 3 and later replaced by P.J. Fleck.

"I didn't need all that drama," Fisher said of his decision to back off signing with Minnesota. "I was like, 'What am I walking into?' "

Former Razorbacks defensive coordinator Robb Smith recruited Fisher to Arkansas, but he resigned after the Belk Bowl and joined Fleck at Minnesota.

"It is kind of funny that coach Smith is at Minnesota and I'm not, but I'm glad the way it all worked out," Fisher said. "I'm really happy to be at Arkansas."

Sports on 08/13/2017

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