Roman's Fuller making big impact at Notre Dame

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Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller was a star at Roman Catholic High School. (Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports)

Two games into the season, the coach at the Police Athletic League in Wissinoming told Megan Mitchell, Will Fuller's mother, that her son seemed better fit for football than hockey. The 5-year-old Fuller had made himself the enforcer of the center's foot-hockey league.

He was a little too aggressive, his coach said. Fuller's hockey career was finished.

"I was hitting people in the face in sports that I'm not supposed to," said Fuller, now a wide receiver and key player at No. 5-ranked Notre Dame. The Irish visit No. 2 Florida State on Saturday night in one of the season's most highly anticipated games.

With the coach's advice, Mitchell signed up Fuller for youth football at the Moss Athletic Association and later with the Frankford Chargers. Fuller excelled as he said he "fell in the love with the game right away." He enrolled at nearby North Catholic for ninth grade. The Frankford school closed after his first year, forcing him to transfer to Roman Catholic, where a cousin had attended.

Fuller starred at Roman and finished as one of the city's all-time best wide receivers. He earned a scholarship to Notre Dame. And he's excelling there, too.

The former foot-hockey player, just a sophomore, leads Notre Dame in receptions (35), yards (504), and touchdowns (7). Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Fuller can take over a game by himself.

Fuller said he did not expect his success to come this fast, especially after he caught only six passes during his freshman season. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder grabbed two touchdowns in last week's 50-43 win over North Carolina. His mother, who travels to each home game, said the season has been "simply amazing."

Fuller's first touchdown on Saturday came one play after he caught a screen pass and dashed for a long gain. His second touchdown was a screen, as he caught the short pass and beat defenders by simply running past them for 35 yards. Fuller said speed wasn't his strength in high school, but now he said it's his "go-to thing."

"It's great," he said. "It makes me feel pretty good to just outrun people."

After Fuller's first touchdown, the television commentators compared him to former NFL all-pro and Roman Catholic alum Marvin Harrison. Fuller eclipsed Harrison's high school records, and the comparisons are easy to make. Both players are the same size, and both broke out in college in their sophomore seasons.

Roman Catholic head coach Joe McCourt said he's too young to have seen Harrison play in high school, but Harrison's playing style in the NFL resembles Fuller's style today. Both excel at running routes and have quick, soft hands. And like Harrison, Fuller does not let his lack of imposing size limit him at the line of scrimmage. McCourt said Fuller's ability to launch off the line makes him tough to cover.

"That's a great honor," said Fuller. "He went to Roman, and he's going to be a hall of famer. Being compared to him is a great feeling."

McCourt said Fuller was a quiet, humble kid who "just went out and did his business." Fuller's mother said her son is as "quiet as can be" off the field.

"But once he puts that helmet on, he's a totally different person," Mitchell said.

Fuller finished at Roman with a school-record 2,380 yards in three seasons. You can put the versatile Fuller anywhere and he'll make a big play, McCourt said. The coach said the routes he's running at Notre Dame are similar to how McCourt and his staff used him.

"I'm not surprised that he's making an impact early and he's making big plays," McCourt said. "He's a major reason why Notre Dame is undefeated and why they have a top-five ranking. It's pretty cool to see. We knew he was good. We knew he was special."


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen