On Dec. 29, 2013, two men’s paths crossed in the backfield of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
“Come to the trenches with the big boys,” said a towering 6-foot-7 Eric Fisher.
“I’m never scared bro,” said hard-hitting safety Jahleel Addae.
Previously teammates at Central Michigan University, their paths from Mount Pleasant to the National Football League were quite different.
Fisher, a former CMU offensive tackle, was selected All-American after his senior year.
Addae, a former CMU safety, was not.
Fisher was invited to the NFL combine.
Addae was not.
Fisher was selected No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL draft.
Addae didn’t hear his name called during the seven-round event in New York City.
That doesn’t mean Addae’s path to the NFL was any less successful than Fisher’s was. Addae took a route less traveled, but found just as many accomplishments on the big stage.
Not only was Fisher the first CMU player drafter No. 1 overall, but the first in the history of the Mid-American Conference.
Addae couldn’t have been more proud to watch his teammate go No. 1.
“Just knowing Fisher from when he came in, he was real humble, ” Addae said. “He works hard and deserved everything that he got. He put his family on the map and he put the MAC on the map. It was awesome to see him go No. 1.”
Training camp was full of NFL veterans and elite athletes.
Regardless, Addae wasn’t worried.
“Everyone out there is good, everyone is all-conference and they can play ball,” he said. “You have to be willing to study the playbook. You have to be willing to compete; put your best effort forward with every chance you get.”
Addae did just that, making the final roster cuts.
It was a dream come true for him and an emotional experience for his family.
“Just from always grinding from being a youngster and always having that dream to making the final roster was nothing short of a blessing,” Addae said. “I saw the smile on my parents’ faces and they have been supporting me since day one.”
When Fisher arrived for Kansas City Chiefs practice in May, he looked up from the huddle and took in the moment.
It was surreal for him.
“I had no idea about the offense and I was in the huddle with guys like Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe and I was like, ‘Wow is this really happening,’” he said. “Those guys you used to watch in high school and guys you watched in college and now you’re in the huddle with them. You just have to make the most of it. You have to make every opportunity and make the best of it.”
That’s what he did, and on July 26, Fisher signed a fully guaranteed contact with the Kansas City Chiefs worth $22.1 million with a $14.5 million signing bonus.
Life in the NFL
The Chiefs opened the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When Fisher entered the stadium, he noticed considerable differences from his time in Mount Pleasant.
“It was a lot to take in,” Fisher said. “It was an amazing experience especially in front of an NFL crowd. It was a little bit bigger stadium than at CMU. You block out all that eventually and you go out there and have fun and do what you do.”
Not only did he get his first win, but the Chiefs won their first nine games.
Addae opened his season on an even bigger stage as the Chargers played at the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football.
“This isn’t a dream, this is real life.” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better stage to showcase my talents. I got a fair amount of playing time that game; there were a fair amount of butterflies here and there. After that first hit, I was ready to get it going.”
Both Fisher and Addae played against future Hall of Famers during their rookie seasons.
Addae faced NFL MVP Peyton Manning three times in 2013, while Fisher lined up against seven Pro Bowlers.
When they weren’t defending or blocking the best in the league, they were adjusting to the NFL life.
“You have a lot more free time because you don’t have classes,” Addae said. “You also have to take care of your body because you play a lot more games. You watch a lot more film and the speed is now professional. You are out there competing with some of the most elite athletes in the country. You have to train like that. You have to think like that. It’s overall more mental than physical.”
Both former Chippewas miss their college days from time to time. Mostly they miss the relationships they made.
“I miss CMU and the love they gave me,” Addae said. “I miss friends back at school, I miss my old roommate (former CMU wide receiver) Jerry Harris, that’s my boy. I miss the relationships that I built when I was there for five years.”
For Fisher, he remembers his time at Kelly/Shorts Stadium and the bonds he made during victories.
“I’ll always miss Mount Pleasant,” Fisher said. “We had some great success, especially my freshman year winning the MAC championship. That’s the year I’ll always remember, we beat Michigan State …. It was a great four years of my life.”
While they miss their CMU teammates, they saw plenty of each other during the season.
The Chargers swept the season series with the Chiefs, 2-0, including the last game of the season. San Diego beat the Chiefs in a last effort to make the playoffs and Addae made sure Fisher knew that.
“I talked to Fisher and texted him throughout the season,” Addae said. “I caught him after the first game we played each other. I talked a little smack to him in the second game we played, so that was a good time.”
Fisher doesn’t recall the chatter, but said it sounded like Addae.
“I don’t remember Jahleel talking any smack, I just remember him posting photos up after the game,” Fisher said. “It’s good to see guys doing their thing, that’s what it’s all about in the end. He’s a guy who has passion for the game, it was great playing against him. Luckily, I’ll be playing against him twice a year for the next four years. It’s a pretty cool experience.”
The playoffs and the future
The Kansas City Chiefs went from the worst team in the NFL in 2012 to a playoff team in 2013.
Fisher had a big role in the reversal, helping the team finish 11-5.
Injuries limited him, in 14 games in 2013, including missing the Chiefs’ playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
After offseason shoulder and hernia surgeries, and switching to left tackle, Fisher is preparing to return stronger than ever.
“It was a fun ride,” Fisher said. “When it comes down to it, getting into the playoffs is always what you want. It’s what you play for. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep our playoff run going. We always look forward for the next year and the next time you’re going to play football.”
As for Addae and the Chargers, the team finished 9-7 and made the playoffs after the final regular season game.
He played in all 16 games, starting two of them near the end of the season after starter Eric Weddle was injured. Addae finished with 38 tackles and one sack.
Proving himself worthy, Addae started his first NFL playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It was a completely different atmosphere for him.
“(During) the whole week, preparation was different,” Addae said. “There was more on the line. It’s so hard to make the playoffs and then (when) you win one and get into the second round, you start to have visions of the Lombardi Trophy. That’s the goal of every elite NFL team. Just to have that opportunity, it was a real awesome experience.”
Addae’s Chargers were eliminated by the Denver Broncos, 24-17, in the divisional round. In the game, he made his presence known, making eight tackles and forcing a fumble.
Fisher’s Chiefs fell in the wild card round, losing to the Indianapolis Colts, 45-44.
As for the future of their careers, both former Chippewas have similar goals.
Addae wants to prove his worth in the league, not just to his coaches and teammates, but to each team that passed on him in the draft. Beyond that, he wants to improve his game.
“I want to be a good player, be a good teammate in San Diego,” Addae said. “I want to stay healthy, I want to get bigger, stronger, faster and continue to learn how to be a professional. We have some good experience, making it to the playoffs, and a great coaching staff. We have all the right pieces of the puzzle to be put together. That’s the big goal.”
As for Fisher, he wants to improve his game and make the playoffs again as well. He’d also like to see his name on the Pro Bowl roster.
“I just want to help the team out any way I can,” he said. “In the end, that’s what it comes down to. You have 11 guys that if they play like that, you will always have success.”
When the two met in the backfield that afternoon in December, it wasn’t the first time their paths crossed and it wouldn’t be the last. Fisher and Addae are hoping to set a foundation for long NFL careers.