SAM MELLINGER

NFL dream now reality for Chiefs’ Eric Fisher and his mom

Updated: 2013-04-28T23:21:10Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— Eric Fisher is as big as a giant and looks a bit like a bouncer at a rough bar. That’s part of what the Chiefs liked about him. He plays football like an ornery cuss, with a nasty streak and the kind of factory-worker style that old-timers sometimes say doesn’t exist anymore.

That’s part of why the Chiefs made Fisher, a left tackle from Central Michigan, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, and it’s part of why people sometimes get the wrong idea about him. He’s a 6-foot-7, 305-pound sweetheart who puts pass rushers in the dirt because he wants to make his mother proud.

Heidi Langegger raised this enormous son by herself, a single mother who’s on her 33rd year working in Volkswagen’s warranty department. As her boy realized a dream on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, mom did a little crying and a lot of reflecting. Can you believe this? Her son?

“He was my little man,” she says. “Now, he’s my big, little man.”

Langegger felt her son change a bit after the diagnosis. She fought thyroid cancer when Eric was young, and she didn’t want to scare him. But she could tell it shook his world.

She’s cancer-free now, but ever since the diagnosis, Eric became very protective. Grew up a little bit. She was the mother, the caregiver, all of those things. But he became more than a son. He returned the love. Never gave mom a problem. Even in college, he’d skip out for a weekend to come back to his country home to see mom. Sometimes they’d split logs together outside. Sometimes they’d talk. Sometimes they’d laugh.

“She’s been through a lot in her life,” Fisher says. “The fact that she’s going to live a very happy life from here on out, it’s great for me.”

Langegger keeps saying this is the kind of thing that happens to other people. Like winning the lottery. The NFL’s first pick? Please.

She’s trying to soak it all in. She made a new dress for the occasion. She has been 6 feet tall since she was 12 years old — “I guess that’s where Eric gets his height” — so becoming a seamstress on the side saved a lot of trouble. Maybe you saw the dress on TV. She swears the red-and-black choice was just a coincidence.

Nobody saw this coming. Fisher started college with the idea he’d be a mechanical engineer, but grew — literally — into a football star. Four years ago, he was a two-star recruit with two college scholarship offers. Four months ago, he was rated as a mid- to late-first round pick in the NFL Draft.

This is a mix of nature and nurture. Fisher is a gifted athlete, even by NFL standards. He is not a tree-trunk-calved stiff. He played quarterback as a high school freshman, then two years as an outside linebacker. Pretty good basketball player back then, too.

It’s the athleticism that pushed him up the draft boards so quickly. You watch tape, and you see a giant man punking a bunch of mid-major pass rushers. Scouts can be a skeptical bunch. Two of Fisher’s best games came against Iowa and Michigan State, but that’s enough for the first pick. Coming out of the college season, the consensus — as much as it exists in something as subjective as projecting NFL Draft prospects — was that he’d be the third or fourth left tackle taken.

That began to change when scouts saw Fisher up close, talked to him, measured him. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is said to be perhaps more technically sound, but Fisher is the better athlete with more room to grow and a productive mean streak. Now, the consensus is that Fisher will quickly become one of the league’s best five left tackles. He wants to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Mom saw the whole story unfold, making her way to all but three of her son’s college games. She says it’ll take a while for this all to sink in. She’s been so cautious about football.

She always told her boy, “If you make it to the next level.” If. She did this before and after each of his college games. She wanted his head in the right place, and besides, she always taught him that nothing in this world is given. You have to work for it. So after the Senior Bowl, she and Eric sat down for some pizza. They both heard what NFL people were saying.

“Mom,” he said, “this is going to become a reality.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I know.”

From that point on, Langegger said when. Fisher has promised to pay off the house he grew up in. He’s been begging mom to retire for a while now, and just last week she sent a letter to human resources. She’s done at the end of June. Finally.

She’s worked a full life and her son is the Chiefs’ newest star, an instant millionaire, the man who will help protect the new quarterback — maybe even his blindside if the Chiefs trade an unhappy Branden Albert — and even a product spokesman.

This is a strange place for an offensive lineman, but Fisher is getting used to it. Nobody in his family has been through anything like this, so he’s trying to enjoy it. He can help the people he loves this way.

There’s a deal with a laundry detergent, and another with a jeweler. That commercial is set around Mother’s Day. Langegger won’t forget it, her son walking in and telling her he loves her, what she means to him, and giving her the bracelet he picked out.

It’s one of those with the charms, personalized, and she wears it on her left wrist. The stones are red, which like the dress she swears is a coincidence. Fisher picked that color for his college. Langegger smiles.

“But now we don’t have to change it,” she says.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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