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Will Sophomore Challenge Draft? Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald


NFL scouts are forbidden from commenting publicly on college
underclassmen, but that doesn't mean they can't rave about them
privately. Last week one scout, who this season has traveled from
College Park to Corvallis, said, "No question, the best prospect
in college this year is [Pitt wideout] Larry Fitzgerald. He'd
easily be the top-rated player in the draft next year if he were

Fitzgerald set an NCAA record in the Panthers' 24-13 win over
Boston College last Saturday, catching a touchdown pass in a 14th
consecutive game. For his 20-game college career, the 6'3"
225-pounder has averaged 104 receiving yards per game and scored
28 touchdowns.

According to NFL rules, a player cannot be drafted until three
years after he graduates from high school, which means Fitzgerald
is not eligible until the 2005 draft. On Monday an NFL spokesman
said that the league has been hard and fast about its draft
rules, but he added that extenuating circumstances are taken into
consideration before a ruling is made on a player's draft
application. The question is, do Fitzgerald's high school
circumstances make him an exception if he should apply for the
draft next spring?

Fitzgerald was a high school senior in Richfield, Minn., and
working toward graduating in the spring of 2001 (which would have
made him draft eligible in '04). However, because it appeared
that he would be an NCAA nonqualifier the following fall, his
parents pulled him out of the school in the middle of his senior
year and sent him to Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy in
January 2001. There he repeated the second semester of his junior
year and then played a fifth year of football. He graduated in
the spring of 2002 and played as a freshman at Pitt last year.

Fitzgerald, who would have to apply by Jan. 15, has given no
indication that he would try to enter next year's draft, but the
only player in recent history who has turned away from a shot to
be the top pick for another year in college was Peyton Manning.
Says Fitzgerald's father, Larry, "All I know is he enjoys playing
at Pitt, but you never know what might happen."

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS One scout says Fitzgerald would be the highest-rated player inthe 2004 draft.