CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary: 2003 Interview with Pitt WR Larry Fitzgerald
CFN interviewed soon-to-be Pitt superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald way back in 2003.
2003 CFN Interview with Larry Fitzgerald
In our 20th year of existence, CFN will occasionally post some of the classic articles and interviews as they appeared way back in the day. Welcome to our conversation with one of the all-time greats, future NFL Hall of Famer and Pitt Panther legend, WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Larry Fitzgerald interview, as posted in August of 2003
When interviewing college football players, nine times out of ten, the best subjects are the quarterbacks. They’re the most talkative, most used to the media, and they genuinely have the most insight.
The number two position for interviews is wide receiver. Most of these guys love to open up since they have the monster ego thing going, and they’re more than happy to talk about themselves.
Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald was great to talk to and it had absolutely nothing to do with a desire for self-promotion.
From all accounts, Fitzgerald is a dream both on and off the field. Everyone I asked about him started off by using the words, “great guy” before talking about him as a football player.
He has a knack for making the great play when the ball is in the air with a Cris Carter-like ability around the goal line, establishing himself as a star last season finishing with 69 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he’s ready for the NFL right now. More than that, he’s also a great character player with the drive to get even better. I interviewed Fitzgerald when he was on spring break at home in Minneapolis.
CFN: I grew up in Minneapolis. It’s a nice place and it might be home, but what the heck are you doing spending your spring break there? You go to school in Pittsburgh. Can’t you find some place warm to go for a few days?
LF: It’s cool here. I pretty much just like to stay at home and hang with my dad and my brothers and relax when I get time off.
CFN: (This interview was done in April when the Timberwolves and Wild were on big playoff runs.) Everyone there seems to be going nuts about the Timberwolves and Wild right now. Are you into this, or are you now a true Pittsburgh fan?
LF: I love those teams. I love watching the Timberwolves. I like the Wild too. Being a fan, I have to believe the Timberwolves have a shot at the Lakers. But most people out there don’t think they have a chance. I went to two games and they got blown out. I guess I should stop going if I really want them to win.
CFN: Last year you were the rising prospect. Now you’re the known superstar with everyone focusing on you. How has the off-season been different for you football-wise?
LF: It’s been good, and a little different. My teammates expect a lot of me this year, but they don’t expect anything more than I expect out of myself. I don’t feel any different. I know that what I started last year, I want to continue it. I’m the one that’s going to want to do more than anyone else wants me to do. I’m the one that’s going to want it more than the coaches, my teammates or anyone else, so I build all that pressure on myself.
CFN: So were you able to do what you did last year by simply getting out there and getting open?
LF: Basically I went to a spot, they’d throw it up, and I’d body bump to try and go up and get the ball. The coaches are working with me more and more with what they want me to do this year as far as matchups and how to find open spaces. I didn’t fully grasp or understand the offense last year like I do now, so now I have a better understanding of what they want for each play and what I have to do.
CFN: You’re known for being a relatively humble, very grounded person and player. Don’t you need to have some sort of a cocky, just-give-me-the-damn-ball edge to be an elite receiver?
LF: I have a lot of confidence in my abilities. I know what I can do, and I know I can play. I don’t need to tell anyone else about me and show how good I am. If you look at the tapes and watch the games, I’m a pretty decent football player. I don’t need to go around telling everyone I am, cause I hope that all shows up on the field. I don’t believe in being cocky. That’s not how I was raised by my dad and my mom. That’s not how I am. I don’t talk out on the field. I just believe in catching the ball, blocking and running after the catch. That’s what I do.
CFN: You’re in a conference with a lot of guys that like to woof it up. Those defensive backs at Virginia Tech and Miami are pretty good at dishing it out.
LF: When guys start talking a lot, my way to stop it is by making big plays. When you’re making plays, what can they say? If I’m playing well and doing what I can, then they can talk all they want. It doesn’t matter. My little way to try and get back at guys is to beat them. Nobody likes that. That goes for every position on our team. We’re not a big talking team. The coaches keep telling us that if you want to shut them up, make a play. (note: By the way, Fitzgerald caught five passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns against the Hokies.)
CFN: You didn’t look the slightest bit intimidated playing Miami last year. (He made seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the 28-21 loss.) As a freshman, was it weird for you to play in a place like the Orange Bowl against such a storied team?
LF: It was a great experience. When I walked on the field, it was the Orange Bowl. It had a majestic feel too it cause of all the great players and great teams that have been there. I mean, that’s where the 1972 Dolphins played. That’s where some of the greatest players ever have played. But it was a business trip for me, and I had a job to do to try and win the game. That was our mindset was. As far as being intimidated, we’re Pittsburgh.
We’re a blue-collar team that will always work. Miami might have better athletes, but they have to put their pants, shoulder pads, helmets and shoes on just like we do. We approach every game like the other team is doing exactly what we do. When you look at it that way, every team is even and you have to look at the great teams and the average teams the same way. You have to do what you can do game in and game out.
CFN: It sucks to lose a game like that, but what positives were you able to take away from playing such a great game against a team that ended up coming within an eyelash of winning the national title?
LF: We all felt as a team that all we took from that game was a loss. There wasn’t a guy in that locker room that didn’t think we couldn’t beat Miami. Miami is a great team with great players and a great tradition, but we do the same thing Miami does. We have talent. We work hard. We have great coaches. We can play with anyone. You have to believe you can play with anyone when you go out there.
CFN: Coming off the big bowl win over Oregon State, how does that carry you through the off-season?
LF: We know we’re a good team. We knew that even before playing Oregon State. A lot of teams don’t respect us, but you have to earn that. I think if we continue to win and we stay hungry and don’t turn the ball over and keep working, we’ll get that respect.
CFN: Was James Newson down or not on that play? (In the Insight Bowl, Oregon State’s Newson caught a pass and his elbow hit the ground, but the officials didn’t call him down and he ran for a 65-yard touchdown.)
LF: We should’ve played him like he wasn’t down. That was a heck of a play. That was a terrific athlete making a great play. I don’t know why he doesn’t get any more recognition.
CFN: Did you watch the NFL draft?
CFN: Unlike the rest of us who dream of getting our name called someday by Paul Tagliabue, you actually might have that happen. Is that weird to watch something like that knowing that soon, that could be you walking up there?
LF: I’m happy for those guys, cause it’s a lifelong dream for them. For me, I’d like to be there and I need to take the same approach to make sure I get there. I have to take things one day at a time, and I can’t look ahead to what might happen. If I do the things like they did, I might be there. Every day, I have a goal of what I want to do, where I want to be, and what I need to work on. If I keep doing that, maybe someday in three years I can be like Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson.
CFN: So what do you feel like you have to get better at to get to that point?
LF: I have to get better at getting down the field. I have to be a better deep threat and make more yards after the catch. First and foremost though, I want to be a better downfield blocker. I want to do whatever it takes to help the team win. That’s what I care about most right now rather than what I need to do to get to the NFL.
CFN: We think quarterback Rod Rutherford could turn out to be the Brad Banks of this year. The senior quarterback that no one knows much about, but could be in the mix for the Heisman. Give your first hand opinion of him.
LF: When I first got here, Rod was a great athlete, and he’s worked his butt off. Now, he’s not just a good athlete, but a good quarterback. He knows the system and he’s a threat with his arm improving on his touch, and in his ability to get the ball deep. He’s also a good running threat. He’s not just good at getting down the field, but he’s also great at moving around a bit to give me and the other receivers time to work our man a little bit and get open. When the defensive backs have to guard a man for five or six seconds, it’s hard for them.
CFN: Every receiver thinks he’s open on every play. Do you have much pull in the huddle when telling Rod that you’re open?
LF: I don’t say anything on the field. We practice every day during the week so we can be prepared for what we need to do on the field. Rod has a job he has to do. I have a job I have to do. Sometimes we connect, sometimes we don’t. I never ask for the ball. He has to go through his progressions, and the coaches get a lot of money figuring out which plays need to get called and which will work. I just try to make the plays when my number gets called.
CFN: You’re known for your highlight grabs. Has there been one to you that really stands out?
LF: I made a catch against Boston College. It was 4th and 10, and if I didn’t make that catch, we’d have lost. It wasn’t a highlight catch, but it was a catch I needed to make. (Note: Pittsburgh ended up winning 19-16.)
That was a team that we really like to beat every year. Not cause they’re bad guys, but because they’re a good team. To me, that was my favorite catch.
CFN: You grew up around the Vikings and the pro game. Compared to most college guys playing in a small college town, you’re now in Pittsburgh and Heinz Field. Are you a fan of the big city atmosphere?
LF: From me being from the city, I enjoy it cause there’s always something to do even though I don’t do much. I like that there are always things out there and options for things to do. I also love watching the pro sports. I get into the Pirates and the Penguins a little bit. It also takes the pressure off of us a little bit with so many other things going on in the city.
If you go to Penn State, that’s all there is. Sometimes the Steelers take the heat off of us. It’s also amazing motivation for us to go to practice every day with the Steelers here. It’s crazy to see all those Bentleys and Ferraris and Mercedes Benzes in the parking lot. These guys have done it and gotten to the next level. It’s very motivating when you hit the field.
CFN: When I tell people I used to live in Minneapolis, they automatically comment about how cold it is there. Before picking Pittsburgh, were there any thoughts of going somewhere warm to go to school? Pittsburgh isn’t as cold as the Twin Cities, but it’s still cold.
LF: It’s not that bad. It’s a lot warmer in Pittsburgh and there isn’t nearly enough snow. In Minneapolis, it’s a totally different cold. There’s nothing that compares to a Minneapolis cold. People don’t realize that there’s a big difference between being in a place that’s 20 degrees, and a place that’s minus-20 degrees. Minneapolis cold chills you to the bone. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the gusting winds. I’m used to it all.
Photo credit: University of Pittsburgh