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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
2015 DB Fitzpatrick committed to his craft

By Josh Moyer

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's Prep) is one of the top DBs in the 2015 class, with offers from the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, but he's also an absolute pig. Just ask his coach. Or, better yet, ask Minkah.

"Oh yeah," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm a pig. Definitely."

That's not to say the 183-pound prospect stuffs his face with waffles and pancakes at the breakfast table. (Sometimes, he skips the meal altogether so he can catch a few extra Zs.) No, his coach explained, take a bacon-and-eggs breakfast for example. That hen? She was dedicated to that meal. But the pig? He was committed.

And Fitzpatrick, the stone-faced teen with the unprecedented work ethic -- work disorder is how some would likely label it -- is sure committed.

Prep coach Rich Hansen, who would look right at home as a drill sergeant, offered up a challenge. This past week was finals week, a reprieve from the gridiron that's sandwiched between intense workouts. Hansen told Fitzpatrick to relax -- but give him a call, the coach insisted. Fitzpatrick would undoubtedly be working on something football-related.

That first 5:12 p.m. call went unanswered. But Fitzpatrick texted back about two hours later to apologize because, well, he decided to hit up the gym and then joined two friends on the football field for speed drills. He faced two final exams, including one in Latin, the next day and studied for them both late into the night.

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Minkah Fitzpatrick's commitment to excelling at his craft is unique for an athlete of his age.
"I'm telling you, even before he started as a freshman, he came in for practice every day when it wasn't mandatory," Hansen said. "He didn't miss a single workout; he even came with us during 7-on-7s. It was almost like, right away, I'm waiting for the red flag because he can't be all apple pie. He just can't be.

"But I tell all the coaches this now without hesitation: He is the straightest arrow I've ever been around as a 15- or 16-year-old kid. Football, training and academics are his life. If there is a red flag, it's that you have to pull him back. He just goes so hard; he's a workaholic."

Fitzpatrick's average day is the epitome of that commitment. He lives a 75-minute drive from St. Peter's, so he sets his alarm for 5:45 a.m. every day. He always hits snooze for at least an extra 15 minutes because he loves that peaceful feeling of knowing he can stay in bed a little longer because days during the season are so long.

He'll stay late at school, either training or watching film, and then he'll return home around 8 or 9 p.m. He'll study for up to two hours, pray and then hit the lights around midnight. And then it all starts up again less than six hours later.

"We did a lot of research before he went up to St. Peter's and we said, 'Mink, this is what it is, brother. This is rough, and it's not going to be easy,'" said Fitzpatrick's father, whose friends call Big Minkah. "He just told us, 'Yeah, I understand, but I'm willing to hit it head-on.' He's 15 years old and he's got a grown-man's schedule -- but we never heard a complaint. Not once."

Fitzpatrick is single-minded in his pursuits. When his seventh-grade teacher wagged her finger and explained to the boy on career day that he wouldn't grow up to be an NFL player, Fitzpatrick didn't talk back. ("I mean, she was telling other kids an astronaut was all good," Minkah said incredulously.) But the middle-aged woman didn't change his mind any.

During those long car rides to school, in which Hansen usually plays the role of chauffeur, Prep's head coach joked with his assistants early on about the 35-word game. Every day, he'd try to coax the quiet, focused kid into saying at least 35-45 words about topics mostly outside of football.

It wasn't easy, but eventually they started chatting about cars and music, about basketball and life. He can talk about his favorite Bible verse -- "Through Christ all things are possible" -- the way he's grown to the point where he and his father can swap clothes now, and the fact his sister's heading to Seton Hall.

"He loves football, and he loves the grind. He loves training; that's really what makes him so happy," Hansen said. "I really respect that, but part of my role is to keep that from going over the top. So we talk about other things just to give him another outlet because he's so laser-focused."

With that focus and that commitment, Fitzpatrick has already begun reeling in offers almost as quickly as he can deflect passes. He holds nine from top programs such as Ohio State and Penn State, South Carolina and Miami (Fla.).

During a June 1 camp at Penn State, Fitzpatrick easily stood out as the top athlete out of nearly 300 campers. He nodded when coaches offered suggestions, came away with an interception despite being rarely targeted during 7-on-7s and had more than one on-looker comment about his Greek statue physique.

Fitzpatrick isn't about to let up. Rank him No. 1 in the 2015 class, or rank him last. He doesn't care much what other people, whether it be seventh-grade teachers or doubting fans, tend to think. He's just going to continue doing what he's doing.

"Games aren't won on the field," he said. "They're won in the weight room and in training. If you train the hardest, that's why you're going to win. ... And I want to win every time I'm on the field."