MISSOULA -- Brandon Fisher was just a little guy the first time he saw Montana.
His family purchased a summer cabin where Brandon could spend time away from the hustle and bustle of home -- enjoying everything that makes Big Sky Country paradise if you like a little wind in your face and sun on your shoulders.
"I was like 5 years old when we bought the place," Fisher said. "We were here every summer when I was growing up."
It didn't take long for Brandon to get hooked.
Tromping across the West Yellowstone with a fishing pole in your hand has that effect on people.
But Brandon is leaving his adopted state this week to go back to the hustle and bustle. Back to Friday night lights. Back to the biggest stage FCS football has to offer to play for the Grizzlies.
Back to Tennessee.
While Brandon might have fallen in love with Big Sky Country, the Volunteer State is Fisher Country.
In the heart of the South, where football is a religion, Brandon's father Jeff is a high priest.
Starting as head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1995 and then the Titans when the team moved to Tennessee in 1997, Jeff Fisher has become one of the most respected leaders in the National Football League.
Over the last seven seasons, the Titans have advanced to the playoffs four times, reached the AFC Championship twice and lost a last-second decision to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
This year Tennessee has the best record in the NFL and has already locked up a spot in the playoffs.
Jeff Fisher and his goatee are the face of professional football in a state where the sport and the man are revered.
But he's just dad to Brandon.
"That's all he is," the younger Fisher said. "We talk every day, but very little about football. Mostly it's about how things are going, about hunting and fishing.
"He comes to my games when he can, which is tough because of his job. But he's just like any other dad ... he wants me to do well and he's excited when he gets to watch me play."
In choosing a school, Brandon had many options, including ones closer to home.
When he graduated from high school at Christ Presbyterian Academy near Nashville, he was named one of the top four prep student-athletes in the country with a 4.0 grade point average.
The three-time all-state pick was no slouch on the football field either, recording 108 tackles as a senior.
UM was always No. 1.
Aside from the opportunity to spend more time hunting and fishing in the wilds he had come to love, it was a chance to play for a great football program, he said.
"It really was a perfect spot. When I was looking for places to go to school, Montana stood out."
Chuck Cecil, currently a defensive assistant with the Titans, also provided a link through his friendship with Tim Hauck. Griz head coach Bobby Hauck's younger brother was a UM assistant at the time when Brandon was looking at schools.
Cecil had become friends with Tim Hauck while the two were teammates on the Green Bay Packers in 1991 and '92.
"Chuck had a great deal of respect for Tim and he knew the Haucks," Brandon said. "It really worked out well."
Brandon Fisher is a Bobby Hauck kind of guy.
The junior linebacker suffered a devastating leg injury in practice three games into the 2005 season, ending his freshman campaign.
"(Brandon) has no misconceptions about what it takes to compete, what a battle it is on the defensive side of the ball," Hauck said. "It's a physical game.
"He's had some god-awful injuries that he's fought back from ... some clinic-type teaching injuries. I've seen the X-rays n they are awful," Hauck added. "He's never really complained. He's just come back and played great."
After receiving a medical redshirt, Fisher played sparingly the next two years, mostly on special teams and as a backup safety.
When the 2008 season rolled around, graduation left the team with a massive hole at linebacker, and Fisher took the opportunity to jump at a starting role.
"We recruited him as a safety," Hauck said. "But he's a tough guy. The closer he gets to the line of scrimmage the better he plays, the better he likes it.
"When we were in spring ball we were short of linebackers. We needed to move some folks around and it was kind of a natural move ... it's what was best for our football team, and he stepped up."
For Brandon, it was all about more playing time.
"It was the best opportunity for me to get on the field," he said. "I was backing up Colt (Anderson). It's not like I was going to start there."
Fisher has made the most of the opportunity. He's fifth on the team in tackles with 62, he's snagged two interceptions n both against Portland State n plus three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Despite his success, Brandon will be the first to tell you he's not the fastest guy wearing shoulder pads.
"I really do rely on instincts, on my knowledge of the game," he said. "I mean, I'm just not as athletic as a lot of the guys on the field."
But it's that humility and the football smarts that make Fisher so valuable, Hauck said.
"He's an intelligent guy. I don't know if it's his classroom aptitude that translates to football or the fact he grew up in a football household," Hauck said. "I think there are five coaches kids on that defense. They all get it. They take coaching, they adjust well. You can see it in the third quarter of games; they've got it figured out. Brandon is sure one of those guys, he's really a smart player."
Friday night at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, 2,108 miles from Missoula, Brandon will get the opportunity to play a home game.
His father will be there. His mother Juli will be there, along with his brother Trenton and sister Tara. Not to mention numerous friends and relations.
"It's something we talked about (when I came to Montana)," Brandon said. "Our goal is to be champions, and it ends in Tennessee."
Hauck is almost as excited for his linebacker as Brandon himself.
"It will be fun. It will be fun for him," the Grizzly coach said. "There will be alot of folks who are friends of his who haven't had a chance to see him play, in particular his father with his schedule. I'm sure it's great for Jeff to be able to do that."
"This is what it's all about," Brandon said. "People don't remember the team that goes there and loses. We want to go there and hang that banner that says 'Montana n national champs.' "
Now that would be a homecoming to remember.
John Smithers: 406-523-5257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.