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FOOTBALL: Blue Collar Man

A story about how NFL draft prospect and Michigan City alum, Braden Fiske, will soon be Union brothers with his father, Brian.

Photo from FSU Athletics and the Fiske family

Story written by Brian Waddle, RSN Contributor.

Braden Fiske is blue collar to the bone.

The son of a Steelworker, Fiske will be hearing his name this week at the 2024 NFL Draft.

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

It’s been an inspiring story for the Fiske family, where USW Local 1011 member Brian Fiske drives close to an hour each way to Cleveland Cliffs-Indiana Harbor West in East Chicago, Indiana.

He’s been doing it for 27 years.

Proud dad Brian, also an Army veteran, has plenty of time to ponder the past and the future and just what’s going to transpire this week when he and wife Emily, a nurse administrator, hear Braden’s name called from the podium in Detroit – ironically a city known for its hard-working people. 

Brian’s drives to the mill each day also included taking ICD classes before and after shifts.

 “When I first started at the mill I took electrical and welding classes at the (ICD) Joblink (Learning Center),” Brian said. “Later on, I took some health and fitness courses. I know you have to make time for those classes and I tried to.”

Time is something Brian didn’t have much of, especially working swing shifts and trying to raise a family of six. But he coached Braden in Pop Warner from ages 8-13, and continues to put on his hard hat each and every shift. However, this month he’s been smiling from ear-to-ear on those long commutes to work.

Braden, a 6-foot-4, 292-pound defensive tackle, is projected to be drafted in the second round by most NFL experts.

“Braden is proud of being raised by blue collar parents,” Brian Fiske said. “He’ll tell everybody they get up and go to work each day and I really believe he prides himself in that.”

Added Braden: “Something I realized early on from my parents is you get up and go to work, do your job, don’t call off — and they instilled that same mentality in me. Just like my dad goes to the mill every day, it’s the same with me with football: you don’t take shortcuts and you always work hard because you have people depending on you.”

Brian will be the first to admit it wasn’t easy. He’s worked shift work for 27 years at the steel mill and would save his vacation time for the summers so he could cart Braden to each and every football camp they could find.

“Tons of camps, lots of developmental camps, college 1-day camps – just trying to find that elusive offer,” Brian said. “It was hectic, there’s no doubt, but Braden knew at a young age he wanted to play at the next level. I’d like to say that blue collar work ethic was instilled in him at a young age, because he’s worked his butt off to get to this point.”

The story of Braden Fiske is much like a fairy tale. He only had two FBS offers coming out of Michigan City High School – Western Michigan and Illinois State – and decided to take the offer from Western Michigan. He had a solid career there, starting 30 games and playing in 45 total with 148 tackles and 13.5 sacks. Thanks to the transfer portal, Braden was able to land at Florida State for his final season, and boy did he make it a memorable one. He started all 13 games for the ACC champion Seminoles, with six sacks and 43 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, and five quarterback hurries to earn second-team all-ACC honors. Before the season even started, most NFL draft gurus had him as a late-round pick or a possible free agent.

Braden had other plans.

He put on a show at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in February by being named the top defensive lineman on the American team in a vote from offensive line teammates at practice, and followed that up by putting a bullseye on his chest at the 2024 NFL Combine. He was so impressive and shot up so many draft boards that he’s actually got his picture on the cover of the official NFL draft guide. He’s known for his high motor and relentless style of play that has turned his NFL dream into a reality.

“I was able to put myself on notice at Florida State,” Braden said. “A lot of people don’t pay attention to Western Michigan, not watching ESPN3, or Western Michigan playing a small school. They’re worried about the big dogs. So me getting a chance to play with the big boys on a bigger scale was huge. I think it was like, ‘Hey, this guy’s a real player and he’s going to show the world he’s a real player.’ I opened some doors, that’s for sure. Again, it comes down to how I was raised.”

Braden scored an unofficial 9.97 out of a possible 10.00 on the RAS (Relative Athlete Score) that ranked sixth out of 1,620 defensive tackles from 1987 to 2024. His score was higher than Chris Jones (8.42), Aaron Donald (9.66) and Dexter Lawrence (9.86). Braden also ran a 4.78 40-yard dash (99th percentile), and his vertical jump (33.5 feet, 95th percentile) and broad jump (9.9 feet, 98th percentile) had jaws dropping at the NFL combine.

“That Senior Bowl really brought on the spotlight and I think that NFL combine really submitted that he’s a pretty good athlete,” Brian said. “We just can’t believe it. He’s really jumped up the boards quite a bit.”

Braden made in-person visits with the Chargers, Raiders, Steelers and Texans. He had Zoom interviews with every other NFL team. It’s interesting that both Braden and Brian will soon both be Union brothers when he signs his first NFL contract.

“I know from my dad that being a part of the union means people are depending on you to work hard and put food on the table, and it’s pretty cool my dad is one of those people,” Braden said. “Now knowing I’ll be a union member is really coming full circle.”

Brian and Emily have three other children, which include daughters Allison and Morgan, and son Isaac, who’s only 14, but Brian says will be the next star athlete in the family.

“I’ve got some whiskers from the mill,” joked Brian. “You look back at all those long shifts and how hectic that drive can be because of the weather we have in Northwest Indiana, it’s hard to believe sometimes.”

Brian said he’s probably got another 10 years at the mill before retirement, but one thing’s for certain: he’ll have plenty of time to think about how his work ethic shaped Braden’s future, while he’s driving back and forth to work with a smile on his face.

For a job well done.

Photo from FSU Athletics and the Fiske family

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