Favorite athlete: Odell Beckham Jr.
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: The friendships I formed with my teammates and my first high school football game.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When I played football for Lansdale Cannoneers, I was going for a touchdown, and I dipped the ball on the one-yard line before going into the end zone.
Music on playlist: Rap music
Future plans: I plan to attend Temple University.
Words to live by: “Take one day at a time.”
One goal before turning 30: I want to graduate college.
One thing people don’t know about me: I like to travel a lot, and I’ve been to 10 Caribbean Islands.
By Mary Jane Souder
DJ Fisher remembers it like it was yesterday.
Walking into Heartbreak Ridge at Neshaminy High School as a wide-eyed sophomore for North Penn’s season opener in the annual battle between the perennial SOL and district football powers.
“My parents asked me if I was nervous for the game, and I was like, ‘No, I’m not nervous, I’m not going to be going in,’” Fisher said. “So we’re coming out for introductions, and I’m just soaking it in - ‘Oh, this is so cool.’ I felt like a little kid in a candy shop. I was looking around, trying to see if I could find my family in the stands.
“When you’re a little kid at the North Penn games, you don’t realize how many people go to the games until you’re on the field. I dreamed of playing for North Penn, and I would always go to the games.”
The idea that he’d be watching the game from the sidelines went out the window in a hurry when the game began.
“The first play of the game the starter in front of me gets hurt – it was his senior year first play on the kickoff he gets hurt,” Fisher said. “I was like, ‘They’ll probably put someone in before me, I’m just a sophomore.’
“It’s hard to play as a sophomore for North Penn. When he said, ‘Fisher, go in,’ that might have been one of the scariest moments of my life because the game from middle school is so much different. It’s so much faster. The only ones more scared than me were my mom and dad because they knew I was scared, and they were even more scared.”
Fisher was accustomed to playing with and against older players during his Lansdale Cannoneers playing days because of his size.
“That kind of helped, but I didn’t really know much,” he said. “I remember my teammate Nate Brown – he was the starting linebacker, he’s a very, very good player. He was making sure my head was in the game, he was telling me assignments I had to do. If I made a bad play, he would encourage me – ‘Keep going, forget about it.’ He helped me so much.
“I remember going to halftime, and my dad said, ‘Yo, DJ, how do you feel out there?’ I didn’t even answer because I knew I was getting whooped. Later in the game, (the score) started to get closer and closer, and I was like, ‘It’s now or never, you’ve got to make a play.’”
To say Fisher made a play would be an understatement. It was Fisher making the tackle to stop Oleh Manzyk – who is now excelling at the University of New Hampshire - on a Neshaminy two-point conversion attempt for the win in overtime. The stop preserved the Knights 34-33 OT win.
“The running back in that game – Oleh Manzyk – was so good, he was incredible,” Fisher said. “He was a beast, and I knew he was most likely to run it to me.
“As the play’s happening, I was like – ‘Just get in there and make a play,’ and thank god I did. I had Julian White help me out. He was in on the tackle, so that helped out a lot. That was a game to remember because I went from being scared – when I tell you I was terrified, I was actually terrified.”
Needless to say, his coaches haven’t forgotten that play either.
“The first play of the game on the opening kickoff, our starting linebacker non-contact blows his knee out and tears his ACL,” NP coach Dick Beck said. “So now we’ve got to throw in DJ Fisher.
“He goes in there and plays well. He’s the kid that made the tackle on the two-point play to win that game. He has great instincts. He’s got a nose for the ball, understands the game, very tough and strong and built like a fireplug. He has a great feel for the game, no doubt.
“He was thrown in there in his first game with almost zero reps,” NP assistant head coach Dave Franek said. “And to me, that’s a credit to him why he’s so good. We talk about mental reps – DJ is smart, he’s a really good student in school, and he loves football.
“DJ kind of separated himself because he didn’t want to get tempted into talking to the person next to him about something meaningless instead of the practice at hand where he’s getting mental reps. He’s taking it all in, and he processes it quickly.”
In a perfect world, the story of Fisher’s high school football career would have continued with one highlight reel play after another, but that wasn’t the case for the North Penn linebacker, who faced some daunting challenges along the way.
As a ninth grader playing for his Pennbrook Middle School squad, Fisher suffered a concussion.
“I was running the ball in for a two-point conversion,” he said. “I got in, and the kid didn’t cheap shot me, but it was a bang-bang play, and as I got in, I got hit.
“That was the second to last game of the season, so I missed the next game. I was mad because we were playing Souderton, and I love playing Souderton because I know a lot of people from there.”
Unfortunately, this was not a once and done thing for Fisher, who was diagnosed with his second concussion the last regular season game of his sophomore year against William Tennent.
“I got it before halftime,” he said. “As the coach was talking at halftime, the lights were bothering me. I didn’t feel right, so I told the trainer. He tested me and said I had a concussion.”
One year later, after the Knights win over Pennsbury in the third game of the season, Fisher – now a junior - was diagnosed with another concussion.
“I made a tackle, and I felt fine throughout the game, so I finished the game,” he said. “I remember I was at my house and I was getting a drink of water, the lights were just bothering me. I was like, ‘Oh no, not again.’
“Concussions aren’t an injury you want to mess with. I’m like, ‘It’s not worth trying to hide it from people, so I told my parents the lights were messing with me. I went to the doctor, and they said I had another concussion. That was the third game of the season, so I could have come back in two weeks.”
Fisher had a conversation with his family and his doctors before making a decision.
“We talked about – it’s your junior year, and if you want to play your senior year, you might not want to risk it,” he said. “I remember staying after school and going to coach Beck’s office and telling him that me and my family made the decision to sit out for the rest of the year.
“I would go to the games, and during the playoffs, I would go to the practices too. It was really hard because after your first concussion and maybe your second one, you always think about – I’ll play, but after your third one, I really had to sit down and say, ‘Do I want to play again and risk getting hurt. I’ve got a future ahead of me. Do I really want to risk that?’”
Fisher’s story didn’t end there. The talented linebacker opted to come back for his senior season.
“I love football – football is a huge part of my life,” he said. “It’s a thing to get stuff off my mind. That was a big factor.
“Another factor was I knew the team that was coming back was really good. I love my teammates and I love my coaches, and I knew that if I played with them I’d have an opportunity to win. I came back for that. As a little kid, you always dream of playing your senior year, and all the friends you’ve played with throughout your life – you want to play senior year with them. I had to come back and play my senior year.”
Every precaution was taken to ensure Fisher’s personal safety.
“The coaches really came through and helped me out,” he said. “They got a special helmet for me so I had to get sized for a helmet.
“I didn’t change the way I played. I feel like if I did change the way I played and I thought about it too much I was going to get hurt. If there’s a big pile, just don’t jump on it. I wasn’t going to play scared because I knew that wouldn’t help my team, and I knew that wouldn’t help me either because I feel like I would have a better chance of getting hurt.”
The Knights were 5-1 during a COVID-shortened season and a loss to Neshaminy kept them out of the District One 6A Tournament.
“I loved playing this season,” Fisher said. “COVID messed us up. I really wish we’d have a 10-game schedule, and that Neshaminy loss hurt because if we’d won I feel we’d have gone to the playoffs and made some noise.
“But I loved it. It was different with COVID, but I enjoyed every second of it with my teammates and my coaches. I really had a good time.”
A second team All-SOL National Conference linebacker, Fisher was a leader on and off the field.
“He led our team in tackles,” Beck said. “He’s a kid that everybody looks to follow when it comes to lead by example.
“What I mean by that is he’s a super hard worker, never says anything, always has a smile on his face.”
“I did not think we would see him his senior year,” Franek said. “It was a pleasant surprise that not only did we get to play with the pandemic and the school board approved us to get back at it but that DJ was with us.
“He was the lead by example guy. Our captains tend to not be too rah rah which is fine by me. They were more lead by example, quiet assassins, so to speak, not ones to be jumping up and down getting in guys’ faces, and I’ll take that. They did a fantastic job.”
DJ Fisher was undeniably a talented football player, but listening to his coaches tell it, he’s a whole lot more than that. He’s a high character person.
“He’s a good student, he’s got a ton of friends on the team,” Beck said. “His dad was the president of our parents’ club. I’m sure his house is the main destination for all the kids on the team.
“I will say – if there was a kid that had an issue and they needed to come to somebody so that kid would talk to me, I would say DJ Fisher is the guy they would go to, and he would be the go-between him and me.”
“He’s from a great family,” Franek said. “His parents are first class people, and you could see that’s how they raised DJ.
“DJ’s dad is like the mayor. Everyone knows him because he’s just good people, and the same thing with DJ. My daughter is a sophomore, and she gets a ride home, and it’s always – you live in DJ’s neighborhood. It’s not Westport Farm, it’s DJ’s neighborhood.”
Fisher plans to enroll at Temple University where his mother is employed. He will attend the Fox School of Business.
“With the injuries that happened in football, I felt comfortable walking away from it,” he said, acknowledging he can’t leave it completely. “I work at XL Sports World in Hatfield, a sports facility with two turfs, and I coach flag football, so I’m teaching kids how to play football, and I like that. I’m still around the game, I’m just not playing it.”
Fisher’s sister plays flag football for the Athena Warriors, and he also helped coach and sometimes refs. As for coaching in his future, Fisher isn’t quite sure.
“I feel I do have the patience to coach,” he said. “My coaches really helped me throughout high school, and I feel they were a huge part of me coming back to play for my senior year.”
Also serving as a mentor to Fisher was teammate Nate Brown.
“He helped me so much through high school,” Fisher said. “I learned a lot from him because in practice I’m watching him, just trying to soak it in because he would be telling me what was key.”
“Nate Brown was the smartest kid we’ve ever had,” Franek said. “He could have been on the coaching staff and just not missed a beat.
“I know DJ having Nate Brown as a mentor really helped DJ as a player and as a person because of the cerebral aspect of it. He saw how Nate went about it and then carried it over, and I would hope the next generation of kids would see it through DJ and follow all the way through.”