Being the oldest has its privileges. Just ask Bryan Fisher, who had a seven-and-a-half year head start in life on brother Jeff.
“I actually put him in front of the fence, and I drilled shots at him,” Bryan said with a laugh. “He was the goalie when we were growing up.”
As time moved on, however, Jeff went from a human practice target to Bryan’s best friend (and best man in his wedding). Bryan, starting his fifth season as West Windsor-Plainsboro South’s boys’ soccer coach, couldn’t be happier to welcome his little bro into the Colonial Valley Conference’s head coaching fraternity.
After stepping in as interim coach early last season when Jason Armstrong had to resign for personal reasons, Jeff was named the permanent head coach of the Robbinsville boys’ team last spring.
“I’m real excited for him to get this shot,” Bryan said. “He deserves it; he’s worked under a lot of great coaches. He knows what to do, and Robbinsville is so lucky to have a guy like him for the next 20 years.
“He loves being a part of that community. Coming from West Windsor, he had to get rid of all the green and gold shirts. Trust me, he doesn’t have them anymore. He’s invested in their success; I think it’s the right time. I think that program is going to take off now that Robbinsville been around a while.”
Fisher’s career didn’t begin on much of a high note. He took over the varsity right before meeting Notre Dame, which was en route to being the Mercer County Tournament champions. Playing without one of their captains, who had his wisdom teeth removed, the Ravens had no bite and got beat, 8-0.
“That was kind of expected,” Jeff said. “You know who you’re playing, what’s going on. You’re trying not to laugh or smile, but just put it behind you and turn it into a positive and say, ‘Hey, it’s the best team in the county.’
“You can’t really get down a day later because you don’t want the kids to see that. You just shake it off, go forward and try to get better. That was our goal, get better every day.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Robbinsville finished 2-12 but the product on the field was vastly improved by late October.
“One referee said, ‘I did a (preseason) scrimmage of yours, and I did the last game, and you guys had gotten so much better from that scrimmage,’” Fisher said. “That’s the most important thing to us.”
Boys’ soccer is one of the few programs at Robbinsville that has not gained any high-profile success to date, although it has produced some stellar individual players. But having watched the Ravens from their inception, first as a WW-P South assistant and then its head coach, Bryan Fisher feels Armstrong made an impact.
“I thought Jason Armstrong did a great job taking a fledgling program and making it competitive in the Colonial Valley Conference,” he said. “Now it’s Jeff’s job to take it to the next level.
“Jason did a fantastic job building the foundation, and I’m sure Jeff will build on it and take it to the next level. He’ll involve himself in the community and in the growth of the game in town.”
Fisher has grown up with athletics in his blood, mostly because his parents were always dragging him to his brother’s games as a kid.
“Since he’s seven-and-a-half years younger than me, wherever my parents went, he went,” Bryan said. “He grew up in a culture of being outside and being involved in sports. He was a three-sport athlete at South. It’s always come naturally to him.
“I think education is always where he was gonna end up. It’s funny, he teaches history like I do. The only difference is I coach lacrosse in the spring, and he coaches baseball.”
Despite being at Bryan’s games, Jeff wasn’t necessarily watching them.
“Obviously, I always looked up to him,” Jeff said. “He was a major influence attracting me to soccer and sports in general. I’d be at his games, but I would go off and play soccer with other kids who were around while he was playing.”
Jeff went on to play for WW-PS under the late Brian Welsh, and Bryan served as the varsity assistant. A knee injury forced him to miss his entire senior season, but he remained on the sidelines next to Welsh and his brother and began to pick up the nuances of coaching.
He played two years at Mercer County Community College under Charlie Inverso (now the Rider coach), and drew a little bit from everyone he learned under.
“Coaching with Bryan was obviously my greatest influence,” the 29-year-old Fisher said. “He thinks about the little things. I think he does a nice job dealing with players, just keeping the team together.
“He was a little more fiery when he was younger, he might have yelled at them a little more. Now he takes the calmer approach. He lets the kids figure it out on the field. That’s something I think is important. Sometimes I just have to say they don’t need me to tell them, they’ll figure it out. They need to play and they need to learn.”
Jeff has also maintains a strong relationship with Inverso, a Robbinsville resident who would love nothing more than to see his town become a soccer town.
“Coach Inverso has been really good to me,” Fisher said. “He had our guys at his camp, we talked about the team and the future and stuff like that. He’s similar to my brother; he’s the type of guy who lets them play. He knows they can do all the drills in the world but you gotta do it in the game.
“He’s been great. He wants to sit down and talk about how we can build in the future. Being a Robbinsville guy it helps. He wants to support me and see me do well.”
How well Fisher does in his first full year at the helm remains to be seen, but he appears optimistic as Robbinsville graduated just four players.
“I’m pretty excited with the guys coming back,” Jeff said. “We’re getting better but we’re still really young with a lot of sophomores and juniors. They have varsity experience but they’re still learning the game and trying to figure it out. But I really expect to compete this year.”
The Ravens return senior goalie John Riggs, a third-team All-County selection last year. Junior Connor Bauer is back in the midfield and senior Tim McCahery will be counted on for some goals at forward.
“It’s always a huge bonus having a veteran goalie behind you,” Fisher said. “I think our team goal is to get back to the state tournament this year. The CVC is tough, so we’re not even thinking about results, as much as having teams saying ‘Robbinsville played hard, they strung some passes together, they played pretty good soccer, they’re a pretty tough out.”
One thing Fisher has going for him is experience. He has coached sub-varsity baseball and basketball at Robbinsville and WW-PS and was Armstrong’s assistant for a year before taking over last year.
And having last season to get his feet wet as a head coach, with really no pressure on him to succeed, gave Jeff a nice head start into this season.
“That was definitely a major help for me, especially since we’ve been doing stuff all winter and spring and summer,” he said. “I’ve been able to get my philosophies out there and my expectations. They’ve really been buying into it and they know what we’re gonna do here.
“Last year was kind of a tough situation for everyone. So it’s kind of nice to be able to have this opportunity to start fresh.”
His brother, who will be his opponent on the final day of the regular season, can’t wait to see what the Ravens do.
“He had those kids out there four or five days a week in the off-season,” Bryan said. “He had some big numbers out there. You need those things to build a program. What he did is going to play dividends.”
The Ravens should just be thankful that Bryan never fired enough shots off Jeff’s head and body as a youth to knock his love of soccer out of him.