FISHER — It was the helmet last year.
Specifically, the fierce-looking orange bunny decal gracing the forehead area of each white Fisher football athlete’s helmet.
Rising senior Will Delaney admitted that simple stylistic adjustment in 2018 gave the Bunnies a lift.
It showed in an 8-3 campaign that included the program’s first playoff victory since 2005.
So how will the Bunnies — ranked No. 7 by The News-Gazette in its preseason Top 10 poll before the 2019 season starts — follow up their breakthrough season from a year ago?
Fourth-year coach Jake Palmer already has the answer: all-orange home jerseys, save for some black around the shoulders.
And his kids are on board with the fashion choice.
“Look good, play good’s like a real thing,” rising senior Jed Chow said. “When you look good, you always feel like you play better, and it just boosts your confidence.”
Fisher possessed that in spades last year and hasn’t experienced a dip heading into the 2019 season, which begins Aug. 30 at home against Hoopeston Area/Armstrong-Potomac.
“One of only two teams in Fisher history that has some guys on our roster who have won a playoff game,” Palmer said. “We’re just talking about just trying to focus on ourselves.”
One side of that plan manifests itself in the weight room.
A workout program Palmer initiated when his current seniors were freshmen now is deeply ingrained within the Bunnies’ ranks.
“On the field, we just don’t give up,” rising senior Hunter Coon said. “Coach always says, ‘Take people into deep water,’ where we’re most well or where we play best at.”
Another aspect is self-awareness that Fisher’s foes recognize the Bunnies, who graduated just nine athletes, are coming off a strong showing from the 2018 season.
“Last year we kind of snuck up on some people,” Chow said. “This year everybody’s going to be ready and know we’re actually the real deal.”
Palmer’s crew believes that starts both in the backfield and on the offensive line.
Rising senior Tyler Wilson and his 1,494 rushing yards from last season remain in the fold, as do Delaney’s 461 rushing yards and contributions from rising juniors Cale Horsch and Drew Purvis.
The big boys up front, Chow and Coon among them, allow for all of this success to get started with their play on the offensive line.
“That’s one of the biggest deals,” Delaney said, “especially in our option offense, is to have an offensive line like we’re going to have. I think that’ll be one of the strongest points of our whole team this year.”
Having a multi-year starting quarterback in Delaney won’t hurt, either, especially considering he tossed 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions as a junior while throwing for 912 yards.
And motivation isn’t hard to come by among this bunch.
“We want to put a plaque on the wall,” Chow said. “Elite eight, at least. Try to keep building on what we’ve already built.”
That would mean more opportunities beyond Heart of Illinois Conference boundaries for folks to see the unique helmet-jersey combination the Bunnies plan to rock.
“To you and I, it may not matter what they’re wearing out there,” Palmer said. “But kids, when they have something on that they like and they feel good about it, then they’re a little bit more confident.”
Monday morning quarterback
Coach Jake Palmer isn’t pumped up about Will Delaney at quarterback solely because of his stats from last year. “My first returning starting quarterback since I’ve been head coach,” Palmer said, “so very, very excited about that.” Palmer described Delaney as “a kid who’s just unbelievably smart, makes great decisions (and is a) phenomenal leader.”
After a rough 1-8 record during Year 1 for Palmer in 2016, the Bunnies have gone 14-7 over his next two campaigns, including last year’s Class 1A first-round postseason victory that was a first for the program since 2005.
“The goal for our team is to take that next step and try to get to the quarterfinals or beyond,” Palmer said. “That’s something we’ve talked about a lot as a group and as a team.”
We’re talking playoffs
➜ Their first playoff win happened ... in 2005, when Fisher defeated Arthur 19-13 in a Class 1A first-round game.
➜ Their most recent playoff win was ... in 2018, when the Bunnies defeated Cumberland 48-15 in a Class 1A first-round game.
➜ Their best-ever finish was ... as Class 1A quarterfinal appearance in 2005.
When you can see Fisher
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Aug. 30 vs. Hoopeston Area/A-P 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Tremont 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Tri-Valley 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Madison 2 p.m.
Sept. 27 at GCMS 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Heyworth 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Dee-Mack 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Ridgeview/Lexington 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at LeRoy 7 p.m.