Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher’s son provides true inspiration
BY MIKE BERARDINO For Sun-Times Media December 31, 2012 9:03PM
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, right, appears during practice, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, in Davie, Fla. Florida State is scheduled to play Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Updated: February 2, 2013 6:21AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When Florida State players gather in the stadium tunnel just before Orange Bowl on Tuesday, they will have an inspirational figure in their midst: Ethan Fisher, the 7-year-old son of Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“When we’re in our huddle getting hyped for the game, doing our breakdown, Ethan is in there, too,” FSU linebacker Christian Jones said. “He’s breaking it down with us. And when we run out, he runs out with us.”
Along with older brother Trey, who is 11, Ethan has been around the team virtually every day this season. The boys offer encouragement to the players, much like coaches’ sons at many other big-time programs.
The difference with Ethan is what he represents as the Seminoles prepare to play Northern Illinois.
Diagnosed last year with Fanconi anemia, an extremely rare genetic condition that is life-threatening and eventually will require a bone-marrow transplant, Ethan inspires with his upbeat personality and indomitable attitude.
He reminds the players how fortunate they are to play college football on scholarship, reminds them what it means to be healthy and carefree.
He does this every time he plays pickup football games with his buddies on a side field while the Seminoles hold practice. Or each time he boldly challenges one of the players to an arm-wrestling match or a footrace.
“He beat me,” wide receiver Rashad Greene said. “It was in the hallway headed toward the cafe-
teria. He beat me to the food.”
Senior quarterback EJ Manuel quizzes Ethan about the many video games he has on his iPod.
“[He] must have 30 or 40 on there,” Manuel said.
Other players look forward to the boy’s pregame exhortations of “Let’s go!” in a high-pitched voice that sounds like a miniature version of his father’s.
“He’s athletic as heck now,” Jimbo Fisher says. “He’s a very good athlete. He plays ball. Ethan does awesome. He loves life.”
The players marvel at how consistently upbeat the boy’s personality has remained since the diagnosis. They find it hard to complain about the heat or the length of practice when a child dealing with such a serious ailment is racing around with so much joy in their presence.
“You could never tell what he was dealing with if you didn’t already know,” receiver Rodney Smith said. “That little kid is full of a very big spirit.”
The relationship between Ethan and the players is symbiotic, according to his father.
“It’s therapy [for Ethan] to get out here with them and be with them,” Fisher said. “He and Trey go run to the players, and they feel like they’re one of the players. Ethan being around them and what he does … the players are so good to him, it’s unbelievable.”
Fisher and his wife, Candi, started the Kidz 1st Fund to help aid researchers trying to stamp out a hereditary illness that affects about one in 131,000 people. The survival rate after a bone-marrow transplant from an unrelated donor has improved from less than 15 percent to better than 85 percent in the last two decades.
While players say Fisher maintains his energy and relentless optimism around them each day, the coach admits his family’s experience has softened his view of what takes place between the lines.
“A football game is very important,” Fisher says. “It’s our livelihood, but it’s not life and death. The ultimate thing is God, family and then ball. Now, we put our heart and soul into ball, but we also put our heart and soul into our family and God, and that’s the most important thing.”