Pete Lahti and Rylan Fisher will be on opposite sidelines Saturday afternoon in McMinnville
Former Taft football stars reunite in college matchup
Pete Lahti won’t be playing quarterback and Rylan Fisher won’t be playing at all, but that won’t prevent the former Taft High stars from sharing much of the fanfare before friends, fans and family on a college football Saturday in McMInnville.
Lahti, converted to defensive back and linebacker as a sophomore with the Lewis & Clark Pioneers, and Fisher, a freshman wide receiver for the Linfield Wildcats, will meet on opposite sidelines at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on homecoming at the Catdome.
“It’s nice that I’ll be able to see one of my best friends,” said Fisher, who is on injured reserve with a recurring track and field injury. “Pete’s really helped me out throughout the years and, honestly, is one of the reasons I wanted to play college football.”
“Watching him progress the way he has has been incredible for me,” Lahti said. “I’m extremely proud of everything he has accomplished despite injuries or other hardships. He’s a grinder, and one of the best people I’ve ever been around.”
College develops distance between even the best of friends, which might explain why Lahti, who picked Fisher up for weightlifting before school every day of their senior season, was unaware of his top target’s playing status.
“The opportunity to play against Rylan is a little surreal,” Lahti said. “It seems like just yesterday that we were making an audible for him to run a streak down the field to beat the defense deep.”
Fisher, who plays on the seventh-ranked Division III team in the country, concurred.
“Although sitting in film session studying how to beat the person I trained with for years is a little strange, at the same time I know how he works, so I’m ready to see what he has in store for the guys here at the Catdome,” he said.
The nagging leg injury Fisher suffered last spring while competing for Taft High track will prevent the back-to-back Oregon Class 3A Offensive Players of the Year from colliding on the field. Fisher said he was uncertain when he’d be able to practice, but said the Wildcats’ training staff had him on the proper path for a quick return.
“College, so far, is quite different than high school,” he said. “The recruiting class I came in with are a tough bunch. All six of the freshmen receivers have done great things within their high school programs and make it a grind throughout practice trying to one-up each other.”
Lahti is well aware of what Fisher has in store. He’s already persevered through his first year away from home.
“As far as college goes, it has sure been an unexpected ride,” he said.
Recruited as a quarterback, it was determined that Lahti would be a stronger asset at defensive back.
“I believe that Pete has developed into a good defensive player because of his instincts from playing offense,” Lewis & Clark defensive coordinator Eric Jackson said. “He’s always thinking ahead, and not guessing.”
Lahti spent most of his playing time as a second-string safety last season, but found himself on the field a lot in a rolled-up type safety in passing situations. He started a few games in specific defensive packages.
“Pete is an exceptional young athlete,” Jackson said. “He has tremendous work ethic and is very savvy. This has allowed Pete to play a few different positions in the secondary without error.”
Thanks to an offseason strength and conditioning program, Lahti has increased his weight from 165 in high school and 170 his freshman season with the Pioneers to about 185, with plans to bulk up further over the next three years.
“This year, my production has gone up immensely,” he said. “I came in as one of the most experienced defensive backs that we have.”
Lahti has started the first two games at cornerback and has played every defensive down. His aggressive, ballhawking nature has him starting on all four special teams.
“It has been tiring and the biggest challenge physically that I have ever had to face,” he said.
“Off the field, Pete has embraced what we are doing here at Lewis & Clark by being a go-getter and self-starter,” Jackson said. “Already, as just a sophomore, he has had a prized internship with the Tacoma AAA baseball club and I know this summer he’s looking for better.”
“It has been awhile since I have played linebacker, and I am excited for the opportunity to get back to it,” he said. “We just decided to change things up a bit for a different look on defense. I think it will be a good move.”Lahti will encounter an especially difficult challenge against the Wildcats when he starts at outside linebacker for the first time.
“I just wanted to try to grow myself as a person and gain some knowledge about the sales industry in the sports realm,” said Lahti, who sold small packages and All-Star Game tickets for the Seattle Mariners’ farm club. “They were extremely pleased with me, and I was grateful for the opportunity to work for such an established program.”
Now, he’s back to doing the college thing.
“It has been a constant grind,” he said. “I find myself leaving my room at 7 o’clock in the morning and not getting back until 10 or later.”
The hectic schedule has not slowed him enough to deny him a spot on the Dean’s List while playing baseball last spring.
“College has been a great experience for me,” he said. “I have changed immensely as a person. I have grown and seen things from a new point of view. I am so thankful to have this opportunity to continue to play the sports that I love at a high level of competition. I am grateful to have the supporters in Lincoln City and other places that I have. I couldn’t have done this without a lot of support from my community.”
Meanwhile, Fisher has barely been on campus long enough to find his way to the library.
“There are ups and downs, just like a roller coaster,” he said. “For me, It’s just getting used to the study session times of classes and just managing my time. Since it is my freshman year, I know it’ll get better once I get into a rhythm.”