SPORTS HEADLINES

Chip off the old block; Father and son share bond on field

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, September 19, 2018
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Like Father Like Son

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON – Decatur junior Roman Fuller was named the Eagles’ starting quarterback prior to the start of the regular season. His father, Mike, is in his fifth year as Decatur’s head coach. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For the past three weeks, Decatur coach Mike Fuller has stood on the sideline and seen a spitting image of himself under center.

Since he was little, Mike and his son, Roman, would play catch with any ball they could get their hands on. Eventually, Roman started playing flag football, and then he hit a growth spurt.

“He wasn’t taller than me until freshman year,” Mike recalled.

No longer little, the 6-4 junior now stands an inch or two above his father. Now, with his dad on the headset, Roman has been given the keys to Decatur’s high-powered offense as the starting quarterback.

“I feel like he’s more of my dad everywhere else,” Roman said. “But on the field, he’s my coach.”

All in the Family

ALL IN THE FAMILY – Decatur junior Roman Fuller (right) has thrown for 821 yards and nine touchdowns through three games this season. His father, Mike (left), is the Eagles’ head coach. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Mike comes from a coaching family.

His father, Dave, was an assistant for some of the top programs in the Metroplex, including Southlake Carroll, Grapevine, Grand Prairie and Arlington – Mike’s alma mater. Growing up, Mike bounced around the area, attending six different elementary schools.

When he finally got to junior high, Dave promised Mike they wouldn’t move again. But before his freshman season in 1984, Dave took a job at Grand Prairie. Mike stayed behind at Arlington, and after years of waiting, the two weren’t able to share the field together.

“I never got the chance to play for him,” Fuller said. “I think he thought he would be at Arlington, but he ended up at Grand Prairie.”

Mike went on to break numerous passing records at Arlington and played collegiately at Abilene Christian University. He eventually got to coach alongside his dad when Dave came out of retirement to serve as a special consultant for Colleyville Heritage.

In 2013, Mike left Heritage and took the head coaching job at Decatur. At the time, Roman was 11, and still several years from playing high school football.

Last season, he backed up Wilson Hicks, seeing limited action. Over the summer, Hicks opted not to play this season, opening the door for Roman to start – and give Mike the chance to finally experience what the father-son, player-coach dynamic is truly like.

“It’s been awesome, but it’s also been a little bit of a challenge,” Mike said. “I try my best to be his dad at home, and then be his coach here. When we’re at home, we’re just at home. We talk more about grades, friends, plans and what he’s doing for dinner – those types of things.”

Roman inherited a Decatur team that went 8-5 last year. The Eagles advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in Mike’s tenure as head coach, boasting one of the most prolific offenses in 4A.

Decatur averaged 45 points and 500 yards last season, gashing teams en route to the region quarterfinal. Entering the season, many publications, including Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, projected the Eagles to go even farther this year.

DCTF had Decatur and Wichita Falls Hirschi meeting in the region final, which would be the farthest the Eagles have advanced in more than a decade.

Roman knows all eyes are on him Friday night, but he does not let the pressure rattle him.

“I think the way I’ve handled it most is thinking it’s just the team,” Roman said. “There’s no one else on the outside. I do what I have to do, and I know the guys next to me will do what they have to do.”

His dad couldn’t agree more.

“He knows the added pressure that comes along with being the coach’s kid and playing quarterback,” Mike said. “I think he does a great job with it. He has really good friends and is generally unaffected by some circumstances.”

Roman’s position coach, Tommy Maddox, said the two have managed the high-profile situation well.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been around [a team] where the head coach’s son is the quarterback,” Maddox said. “I think, not to put any other position down, but that adds a whole extra [dimension] to it. It’s a very unique position, and I think they’ve handled it well.”

In Roman’s first game under center against Kennedale in Week 1, the Eagles struggled. Decatur did not eclipse 200 yards on offense, and Roman went 4-of-22 with five interceptions.

His father has seen plenty of quarterbacks struggle over the years, but Mike said watching his son have a game like that was unlike anything he’s experienced.

“I’ve had plenty of heartbreaking, last-second losses that just rip your heart out. And I’ve had just as many wins that make it great,” Mike said. “But that one, being the first one with him playing all the time, that was a tough one. [It] just really hit home a little bit more.”

It didn’t take Roman long to bounce back.

The next week against Alvarado, Roman tossed seven touchdowns to five different receivers. With the game on the line and the Eagles trailing late in the fourth quarter, Roman led Decatur on a 90-yard drive to secure his first win as a starter.

“My whole thing that week was doing the little things right,” Roman said. “It was basically just effort. If you do everything right, something good is going to come out of it.”

Through three games, Roman has completed 61.8 percent of his passes and thrown for nine touchdowns. He has spread the ball around to nine different receivers, seemingly getting more comfortable in the pocket as the weeks go by.

While watching his son develop has been special, Mike’s end objective goes well beyond football.

“My biggest goal when this is all over is Roman can look back at it and feel like it was a special experience, but more than anything, I hope he thinks I was a better dad than coach,” Mike said.

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