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
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." --K.K.
COLOR PHOTO: MIKE LONGO/AP HELLO LARRY After 69 catches for 1,005 yards as a freshman, Fitzgerald will be a marked man when Pitt has the ball this year.
2002 RECORD 9-4 (5-2, 3rd in Big East)
FINAL AP RANK 19
RETURNING STARTERS 17
KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (Soph.)
Pitt freshman marks for catches, yards, TDs
QB Rod Rutherford (Sr.)
Threw 22 TD passes, third best in Pitt history
DE Claude Harriott (Sr.)
Second in nation with seven forced fumbles
TE Kris Wilson (Sr.)
Averaged 21.6 yards on 18 receptions
P Andy Lee (Sr.)
Big East special teams co-Player of the Year
Points scored by Larry Fitzgerald on 12 TDs, making him first
true freshman (besides kickers) to lead Pitt since Tony Dorsett
With linebackers coach David Blackwell off to Clemson and only
one experienced player back, the Panthers turned to former Pitt
linebacker Curtis Bray to coach the unit. He has already proved
himself as Pitt's defensive ends coach, mentoring NFLer Bryan
Knight and senior All-America candidate Claude Harriott.
SEPT. 6 KENT STATE
13 BALL STATE
20 AT TOLEDO
27 AT TEXAS A&M
OCT. 11 NOTRE DAME
18 AT RUTGERS
NOV. 1 AT BOSTON COLLEGE
8 VIRGINIA TECH
15 AT WEST VIRGINIA
22 AT TEMPLE