Utah Wide Receiver Sean Fitzgerald: A Man of Opportunity

After a long journey as a leader in the Utah Football Program, wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald is finally working towards his dream of making it into the NFL. Fitzgerald, a 6’3″ 200 lb. receiver from Mission Viejo, California, finished his senior season with 32 receptions, 471 yards, and five touchdowns. Fitzgerald’s path to this point in his career hasn’t been your prototypical one of a college athlete, but a decision he made when he was 17 years old has led him to become a better man and football player.

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Utah WR Sean Fitzgerald (Jeffery Allfred/Descret News)

Playing his high school football at Mission Viejo High School in California, Sean had the luxury of having highly touted recruit Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball. During Sean’s junior high school season the team was ranked number two in the nation, and many scouts were attracted to the team and Sanchez. Fitzgerald began to receive interest from programs out west, but when he informed schools that he wanted to serve on a church mission many of the schools had become disinterested because of the two year separation from the game. The decision to serve on a church mission was something that always interested Fitzgerald, but as he grew older, around the age of 17,  Fitzgerald felt it was something that was right for him.

“I felt like it was the best decision for me. It has always been something that has been on my radar growing up. Football would have been there for me when I got back from the mission”- Fitzgerald explained in an interview with Pro Football Central. Having informed recruiters of this opportunity he wanted to pursue, Utah and BYU were the two schools that were fine with Fitzgerald’s plan and both offered him a scholarship. Fitzgerald then went on to commit to Utah before heading to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for the mission. Fitzgerald explained that the church mission was a big growing experience for him. It helped him grow into a better man off the field developing maturity, something he felt helped him on the field also.

After a two year separation from the game, Fitzgerald had to work hard to get back into shape for football. Fitzgerald admits it was tough at first, as he struggled through some injuries early in college career because of being away from the game. Once Fitzgerald fought through the injuries and his body was back into football shape, Fitzgerald began seeing playing time right away during his Redshirt Freshman season, mainly on special teams. Having played very little on special teams in high school, Fitzgerald talked about how important special teams were taken at Utah and knew this was his best chance early in his career. Fitzgerald used the opportunity given to him to contribute on special teams as a way to better his game as a wide receiver. Playing mainly on the Kickoff Return and Punt Return units, Fitzgerald felt these were two units that related closely in translating his game as a wide receiver. “These two teams dealt a lot with blocking and one on one matchups, much like being a wide receiver. You are one on one with a guy and you have to really compete to win these battles”, Fitzgerald explained.

After seeing an expanded role in the offense towards the tail of his junior season, Fitzgerald knew he was going to have a big opportunity and expanded role in his senior season. He used everyday as a day to prepare and work, knowing he was going to be an every down player and wanted to be ready for this opportunity. Fitzgerald took the expanded role by storm, having recorded 32 receptions, 471 yards, and five touchdowns in his last season, highlighted by a two touchdown performance against Weber State which included an 80 yard touchdown, compared to the four receptions he had recorded in the previous years. Fitzgerald finished the 2013 season ranked second on Utah in all major receiving categories, while his 80 yard touchdown reception placed him among the top 10 longest receptions in Utah football history.

Utah having made the move from the Mountain West Conference to the PAC-12 after Fitzgerald’s freshman season, was going to have Fitzgerald matched up with some of the nations top cornerback prospects during his journey. A list that includes; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Rashaad Reynolds, Nevin Lawson, and Terrance Mitchell, Fitzgerald had the pleasure of going against another top cornerback prospect, Utah’s own Keith McGill, everyday in practice to help him prepare for the tough weekly competition in the PAC-12. Fitzgerald says of the experience, “I loved going up against Keith because I knew I was going to have to be on my best game everyday to beat him. Keith is a talented, big, strong cornerback, and going up against him was a really big gain as he really helped prepare myself for the better competition. Not only was he preparing me, but I was helping him, and it made practice fun because we got out there and competed everyday.” Not only was having Keith McGill a big aid to Fitzgerald daily, but the addition of Co-Offensive Coordinator Dennis Erickson to the coaching staff was exciting for Fitzgerald. Erickson, a former NFL and college head coach, is a guy that really cares about his players and really helps them succeed, while having big time experience at both levels.

Fitzgerald will not only attract NFL scouts and general managers with his play on the field, but how he carries himself off the field and in the locker room. Having taken the church mission, not only does Fitzgerald boast a high maturity level, but he had taken upon a leadership role on the team due to his age compared to others on the team. Nicknamed “Old Man Fitz” by teammates, Fitzgerald knew younger guys saw him as a leader on the team. He took the veteran role as a compliment, and something he took to heart, as he taught the team what it is like to play Utah football and be apart of the program. Fitzgerald’s leadership and maturity also speaks volumes with his academic performance while at Utah (Academic All-District Honoree, Academic All-MWC) and the birth of his new born son, Jet.

Standing at 6’3″ and 200 lbs. Fitzgerald doesn’t see himself as a possession wide receiver. Fitzgerald prides himself upon making the big play for his team, evident by his 80 yard touchdown reception and numerous long yardage receptions throughout the season. Fitzgerald’s height gives him advantage over cornerbacks, describing he is going to make the play and get the ball while it’s in the air. Fitzgerald continued to speak of his game saying, “Yes I’m a bigger guy and can make the big play, but I’m also a guy that can be trusted on third down. I’m going to run a good route, get open, and get as many yards as I can.” Much like a childhood favorite of his, Jerry Rice, Fitzgerald is continually working on his route running ability through the off-season. “Jerry’s talent and work ethic have always amazed me. He wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest but he outworked everyone. That is the approach I bring everyday, especially in bettering myself as a route runner. Route running is a tool that can always be improved and what will make you a great compared to a good wide receiver.”

As the NFL Draft continually creeps closer, Fitzgerald is working out with a former Utah Ute and NFL Tight End, John Madsen. Fitzgerald explains that he’s working out hard and working on things such as route running daily while seeing great improvements. Fitzgerald is also learning great knowledge of the process and what it takes to be successful at the next level from Madsen, having been there before from a similar situation. After a crowded Utah Pro Day last year for Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei, the turnout should be rather large again this year, as Utah boasts prospects such as; Fitzgerald, McGill, Trevor Reilly, and Jake Murphy. As he anxiously awaits the March 19th date, Fitzgerald is excited for the opportunity to prove himself once again.