Business as usual: Will Fuller
Mary Green | Friday, October 16, 2015
It’s a Wednesday evening in the middle of midterms week for Notre Dame students, the time of year right before a much-needed fall break finally arrives, and Will Fuller has places to be.
The junior receiver just wrapped up practice days before his team’s biggest rival comes to town, but he still has to take an exam the next day and finish up a 10-page paper due the day after that before he can even think about getting a win against USC and certainly before his mind can wander to his quick trip home to Philadelphia during the bye week.
And yet, he stops for a few seconds to sign a football for a fan’s young grandson, whose favorite player is No. 7.
He patiently answers question after question from reporters — his responses are never too long, and his voice is barely louder than teammate KeiVarae Russell’s is from across the room — before slipping out to pose for a quick photoshoot and heading off to complete his next task.
Fuller has things to do, the first of which is studying for that test in his “Black Chicago Politics” course.
But on Saturday, Fuller will just have one job, and that’s finding the open field so a spiral from quarterback DeShone Kizer can find him.
At least that’s how the Irish plan seems to go week after week.
“You know, it definitely keeps you a little bit more comfortable to know that once you get the ball out to the guys, you expect a five- or 10-yard route with the speed and life after the catch they have, it’s unreal,” Kizer said Sept. 23 of Fuller and senior running back C.J. Prosise, who have combined to average 256.2 of Notre Dame’s 502.7 yards per game.
“You can just put the ball out there and hope that something great is going to happen, and more times than not, it will.”
For Kizer and the Irish offense, “something great” has been established as the standard so far this season. Fuller has made seven catches that have gained at least 30 yards for Notre Dame in 2015, and five of those ended with the receiver in the end zone. Arguably the biggest of those came with the 39-yard game-winner with less than a minute left against Virginia on Sept. 12.
Those grabs have brought crowds to their feet — or hanging in despair over walls, in the case of the Charlottesville comeback — and have made Fuller the talk of the game more often than not over the past two seasons. But Fuller’s own mind is always on the job he has to finish up.
“I’ll make a big play, and I’ll just get up and run to my side of the field, you know, just going to the next play,” he said. “I try to stay level-headed until the game’s over, just try to help my team as much as possible.
“You don’t have to get hype until we win. I’m happy with the win.”
Even after a win, the even-keeled junior doesn’t switch up his lifestyle in celebration.
“I just go about my business,” he said. “I don’t really do too much outside football and school. My family’s always here, so I’m with them most of the time after the game.”
That family has witnessed one of their own climb the ranks into Notre Dame lore, with Fuller currently fourth all-time in touchdown catches at 23, behind recent standouts Michael Floyd (37), Jeff Samardzija (27) and Golden Tate (26).
Considering Fuller made just six catches and scored once his freshman year, that figure’s a glimpse of the productivity the receiver has had over the last two seasons, especially in his breakout 2014 campaign.
So far this season, Fuller’s seven touchdowns are tied for seventh-most in the nation, while his 571 receiving yards are 15th. He’s averaged 16.4 yards per catch in his career at Notre Dame, ranking third among all active FBS receivers with at least 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards.
Yet you wouldn’t know that from his demeanor. He’s soft-spoken, goes about his business and certainly isn’t prone to linger around with reporters for longer than he needs to.
“I’m an introvert — not on the field, I’m probably more extroverted on the field — but off the field, in the classroom, at home, I’m still the same like I am around media,” he said. “I don’t change that much with my friends. I’m still a quiet dude.”
Other players were quick to offer a similar analysis when asked about their teammate away from football.
“Will’s a low-key, quiet guy, doesn’t really need much in life to be happy and satisfied,” graduate student receiver Amir Carlisle said. “He’s a real good friend of mine, too, and off the field, he’s quiet.”
While Fuller said his extroversion on the field especially comes out in the way he communicates with teammates, he said he still prefers to let his play speak for itself — unless a defensive back has been running his mouth.
“That’s definitely the way I’ve always been,” he said. “If there’s a cornerback that’s talking a lot of trash, and I make a big play or something — like Kei [Russell], if I made a big play on Kei — I’ve gotta say something. It depends on how the cornerback is.”
Carlisle said he sees Fuller’s demeanor change on Saturdays to a certain degree.
“Before the game, obviously, his energy will pick up, as well as all of us will kind of get hype, chanting together, getting each other fired up, but he’s a pretty even-keeled guy for the most part,” Carlisle said.
Though he admitted he’s bogged down with homework and football most days, Fuller said he likes to spend his free time participating in one of the more popular team activities: playing video games.
“My favorite thing to do is playing video games, probably, what I would do if I didn’t have any schoolwork,” he said. “Like fall break, I’ll probably play my video games a lot and just relax.”
Fuller is a member of a large group of teammates who channel their competitiveness into playing 2K, Madden, Call of Duty or anything else that comes up.
“There’s a lot of us. Probably a good 20, 25,” he said, listing off Carlisle, Prosise, Ronnie Stanley, Torii Hunter Jr., Chris Brown, Jay Hayes and C.J. Sanders as his fellow gamers.
Graduate student center Nick Martin, who said Sept. 30 that Fuller once “literally beat me by about 100 points in Madden,” was conspicuously absent from that list.
Carlisle said the junior’s gaming skills are among the best on the team — Fuller declared himself “hands down the best in every game” — and that he used to be a nationally ranked player in Madden.
Despite that accomplishment, Fuller said his focus is still on the game on the field, not on the screen.
“I just play casually, just to get my mind off things. I mean, it’s time-consuming, so it gets days passed really fast,” he said.
After all, Fuller still has other places to be.