Most college players dream of life in the NFL; at age 19 sophomore wideout Larry Fitzgerald can already reminisce about it. His father, Larry, is a Minneapolis sports editor and close friend of former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, so as a kid Fitzgerald would regularly hang out on the Vikings' sidelines, and he became the team's ball boy in high school. "I grew up around Anthony Carter, Cris Carter, Randy Moss," says Fitzgerald. "They were great to me, always giving me pointers. After they'd walk off the field, I'd run out and practice the moves they'd shown me."
Not surprisingly, then, Pitt's new star is well ahead of most sophomores in skill and maturity. He demonstrated both in Pitt's 28-21 upset of then undefeated Virginia Tech last fall, catching five passes for 105 yards, including three soaring touchdown grabs. Such performances made him the first freshman unanimously voted to the All-Big East First Team.
This fall Fitzgerald will be part of the most promising Pitt squad in two decades. Seven defensive starters, including havoc-wreaking senior end Claude Harriott, are back from a unit that allowed the fewest yards per game (296.0) in the conference. On offense, head coach Walt Harris's complex West Coast attack features Fitzgerald and three talented seniors, quarterback Rod Rutherford, tailback Brandon Miree and tight end Kris Wilson. Together they could become the nation's most productive offensive quartet. Rutherford knows his top target will be double-teamed but has no doubt Fitzgerald will dominate opponents once again. "He plays like a man among boys," Rutherford says.
A difficult off-season has made Fitzgerald grow up even more. In April his mother, Carol, lost her five-year battle with breast cancer. After her memorial service Larry was eager to get back to his routine, which for as long as he could remember has meant football. Between visits to his father in Minneapolis, Fitzgerald frequented the Panthers' weight room, adding 15 pounds to his 6'3" frame (he now weighs 225) and lowering his body fat from 6% to 4%. "I've grown in many ways this past year," says Fitzgerald. "My mom always said that once she was gone, I should just keep living as if she was still there. I know she'll be watching this season, giving me strength."
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