What a difference a year makes

Nick Fitzgerald is preparing for his second spring with the Bulldogs. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Nick Fitzgerald is preparing for his second spring with the Bulldogs. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Nick Fitzgerald has been through two years of bowl prep and has yet to take a collegiate snap.

But those two both experiences were drastically different for the Mississippi State quarterback.

Fitzgerald arrived in Starkville in December 2013 as an early high school graduate as the Bulldogs were preparing for the Liberty Bowl against Rice.

“They handed me these big packages of paper which was the playbook I had to learn and said ‘here’s what you have to learn by tomorrow, good luck’,” Fitzgerald said. “I missed up every day. It was awful. They tried to encourage me as much as possible but were hard on me trying to push me. I learned a lot in that week and knew what I needed to work on.”

The Richmond Hill, Ga., native continued his progression through spring practice and completed 17 of 26 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown guiding the Maroon team to victory in the spring game.

By the time the rest of the 2014 class arrived in the summer, Fitzgerald felt he already had a leg up on his fellow freshmen including fellow signal caller Elijah Staley.

“It put me ahead of the curve from the rest of my class that was coming in,” Fitzgerald said. “I had an entire semester of workouts and getting in with my coaches as much as possible. I also had an entire semester of learning from Dak (Prescott) and tried to do what he does. He’s a great leader and has the respect of the team. That’s something that I like.”

Although he had the added experience as an early enrollee, Fitzgerald was designated for a redshirt when fall arrived. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder dressed and traveled for every game but was regulated to signalling in plays from the sideline.

“It’s always hard to stand on the sidelines,” Fitzgerald said. “Even as a high school freshman, I found a way to get on special teams and play and had (junior varsity) games. In college you practice, grind and have to stand on the sidelines. It’s pretty rough but understandable. I didn’t have any expectations coming in to beat out Dak the first year. I’m just trying to learn and had a good time watching my team do well this year.”

By the time the Bulldogs began preparing for the Orange Bowl in December, Fitzgerald reflected on his previous bowl experience and feels good about how far he came in a year’s time.

“This year was definitely a lot better,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve learned a lot and matured a lot.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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