- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

The visual impersonation comes to Tre Johnson more quickly than the verbal description. For the latter, he pauses and brainstorms before settling on the adjective "intense," but for the former, he simply lifts his chin, draws his lips tight and makes his eyes wide, edgy and wild.

There he is. He's Mark Fischer.

"He's a real intense guy," Johnson, the Washington Redskins' starting right guard, said of his new line mate. "He takes his opportunity and his responsibilities extremely seriously. He's not a relaxed guy. If he gets beaten, you know it will never be from a lack of effort or a lack of preparation. He's a good soldier."

Fischer is indeed a good soldier, a third-year Redskins reserve center who is getting his chance to serve in place of injured starter Cory Raymer. A big kid with scruffy blonde hair, Fischer speaks frankly about his excitement and fear, saying his intensity comes from not wanting to let anyone down, and that this anti-urge comes from a fear of failure.

"That's pretty much it," he said with a shrug. "I just don't want to fail."

No wonder Fischer was nervous last week in the days leading up to his first career start. After taking a few "deep breaths" to get through Saturday night's opening TV timeout at Cleveland, he ended up performing fairly well, showing enough promise to remain the likely starter for the Sept. 3 opener.

"I thought he played with a lot of confidence," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "He was smooth making the calls. We put him back there in the shotgun formation; all the snaps were good. And it's not like you're playing a rookie back there. This is Fisch's third year. He's practiced with those guys. He knows the calls."

Despite having never made an NFL snap, Fischer, 26, could end up being the No. 1 center for the $100 million Redskins. Raymer, starter of 37 straight games, is rehabilitating a pair of partially torn ligaments in his right knee. Raymer could return by Week 5, but season-ending surgery remains a possibility.

Stay in or sit either situation would suit Fischer fine. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Cincinnati native is enjoying this chance, but he professes no problem heading back to the sideline when and if Raymer returns.

"No one wants to be a backup all their life," Fischer said, "but if Cory came back tomorrow, I would just say, 'Fine, I'm your backup again.' "

It's a fitting sentiment from a guy who didn't even think of playing college football until his junior year of high school. Fischer went to Purdue after his 230-pound frame failed to impress Penn State, and he ended up with All-Big Ten honors on the field and in the classroom, as well as a degree from the respected engineering program.

Fischer's turning point as a football player came his sophomore season, when Boilermakers coach Jim Colletto pulled him from a game for recklessly blocking the wrong defender. Up to that point, Fischer's intensity had gone unchecked.

"Just go out there, forget everything and hit a person," Fischer said of his old mentality. "Toward the end of my college career I realized you can't do that. You have got to have a certain amount of composure. I struggle with it now. I have to calm myself down."

Fischer's marks of wildness now are subtle from the slightly crazed eyes to the neon shark tattoo on his shoulder, half hidden by a shirt sleeve. The ink is a badge from Key West, where he and his wife, Angie, traveled shortly after he graduated from Purdue and not long before they settled down and had their son, Carson, now 14 months old.

"I loved Key West," Fischer said. "Too bad they don't have a direct flight from Dulles. I would be spending my Tuesdays [off-days] down there."

Not a bad place for a Fisch. But because, as Johnson said, this Fisch didn't flop, there are more pressing obligations in Washington. And succeed or fail, the good soldier will soon get his wish and become just another face in the Redskins regiment.

"In a couple of weeks I would like to melt back into the woodwork," Fischer said. "But as long as the offense is doing a good job, I couldn't care less if I have a great game or a bad game."

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