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Oakcrest LB Will Fish putting in the work to be the best he can be, on and off the field

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher When current Penn State University linebacker Brandon Bell graduated from Oakcrest High School, his jersey No. 26 was designated by head coach Chuck Smith as a special number. For a player to wear No. 26, he would have to display the determination, character and leadership — both on and off the field — that Bell did in becoming not only one of the best players in school history, but one of the best leaders in the last few decades. Coach Smith figured he wouldn’t be handing out No. 26 anytime soon. Meeting those lofty expectations would be difficult for any player. Turns out he had a player earn the right to wear that number the very next season — and as a sophomore, no less. Will Fish came into Oakcrest as a freshmen when Bell was a senior and helped oversee the Falcons’ transition through a rebuilding process. Oakcrest’s roster saw a significant drop in its numbers when a new school in its district, Cedar Creek, opened up in Egg Harbor City, and during Fish’s freshman year the Falcons won just one game. Four years later, Oakcrest is coming off a 6-4 season that included a state playoff berth and is thinking it has what it takes to contend for a sectional championship. Fish and several of Oakcrest’s other core players — such as Terrence Smith, Kendall Elliott and Yaier Hinton, to name a few — have spearheaded that quick turnaround with their talent and leadership ability. Fish may be undersized at about 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, but he has put in a lot of hard work during his career to become one of the better linebackers in the Cape-Atlantic League. Fish may be undersized at about 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, but he has put in a lot of hard work during his career to become one of the better linebackers in the Cape-Atlantic League. “Undersized is an understatement. I’ve been watching him since he was in seventh grade playing for the Mays Landing Lakers. He used to have this long hair hanging out of his helmet. You noticed him on the field even back then. He could run sideline to sideline and had a motor that never stopped. We were amazed by his size and then just watching his passion for playing football. He came in here his freshman year and that was right in the middle of our rebuilding process. He wound up starting his freshman year, a little guy playing linebacker,” Smith said. “That was the year that Bell was a senior, so he got to see him first hand and learn from one of the best kids who ever played at this school. From that point forward, he really stepped up as a leader of this team, whether it was in the weight room, off the field, activities on the field. For a sophomore, he showed tremendous character and resolve, so we decided to make him a captain. Size doesn’t matter with him. He plays with such heart that he makes up for his lack of size.” Fish said he has been told throughout his life that he is too small to be an impact football player. That’s the fuel that drives him through every practice and every weight room session. “I get told all the time that I am a small linebacker and I hate hearing that. I hate hearing I’m not going to be able to do things because I’m too small. But then you see me out there making plays” Fish said. “I think that’s a lot of my motivation. I want to go out there and show people my height doesn’t show my skill level, it doesn’t show my character. When people tell me I’m too short to play middle linebacker, that motivates me.” Smith said it was imperative to have guys such as Fish, Terrance Smith, Elliott and Hinton in the program to get things turned around quickly. If you don’t have those kinds of leaders in your locker room, a 1-9 season can lead to a string of losing seasons that may take five or 10 years to recover from. “When we had one win or two wins in some of those years, these guys came out every day and practiced their butts off. And for the most part, we were competitive for a young team,” coach Smith said. “The thing was, they were having fun. They enjoyed being around each other, being around the coaches and just enjoying that time together. It’s a tribute to them and their resolve. When things are going south, the whole thing can go south real quick. That didn’t happen here and I think that’s why we were able to rebuild so quickly. The leadership of kids like Will, and there were several others, had such a positive effect on our football team. That kept the morale up and we were able to pull through and get back into the playoffs last year.” “Coming from one win my freshman year, last year was great. We were happy, there weren’t sad bus rides. And after last year, we can only get better. We have so many guys who have played for three or four years coming back, we have young, skilled freshmen and sophomores who are filling in. I think this is definitely our year,” Fish said. “Last year was the first playoff game I ever played in, so I was stoked. I think what motivates us the most is we haven’t beaten Cedar Creek yet and we haven’t gotten past the first round of the playoffs, so that right there is our motivation.” Coach Smith said Bell is a direct link between the bad times and the good. He’s now a star at Penn State and the leadership qualities he showed when the team went 1-9 set the foundation for what is expected in the Oakcrest program, no matter what the team’s record is year to year. “Brandon’s a student of the game and he watches a ton of film. He really took that to heart. He knew just as well as the coaches what other teams were trying to do. When Brandon was a senior, we were playing seven or eight freshmen. He could have turned the other cheek and been all about himself, but he wasn’t. He took a lot of pride in helping those young kids out,” Smith said. “And the kids learned a lot from him. Here was this star athlete who was going to Penn State who could have done whatever he wanted, but he was out there every single day, doing the reps, helping the younger kids out. We only had one win (his senior year).” Every day Fish was watching and learning from Bell. That’s how he became the leader he is today. He always had that potential in him, Smith said, and having an influence such as Bell helped fine-tune Fish’s leadership abilities. “Every year he has gotten more mature and better as a team captain. Last year he was tremendous, and this offseason he came to me and the other coaches with a bunch of ideas about the upcoming season, what to do with the team, goals, things like that. He is our true team captain. We have a couple of other captains, but he is our leader,” Smith said. “The best thing about Will is he does it on the field, he does it in the weight room, he does it in the hallways representing the school. When you’re asking for somebody to be your team captain, you can’t ask for much more than for those qualities to be exhibited to the highest value.” Fish said it’s very important to him that he be known as more than just a leader on the football field. He wants to be a well-rounded athlete — a guy who is just as well known for helping out any student in the school as he is for being a standout on Friday nights. “I wish other people knew that I’m not just a football player. I love being a leader in school. I want people to come up to me in school and say, ‘yo, Fish, can you help me here?’ And not just on the field,” Fish said. “I want to be that great influence everywhere, and not just on the field. So I hope people see that, hey, Will Fish isn’t just a great leader for the football team, he’s a great leader for all of us. I hope people see that.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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