Solid footing: Fitzgerald's ankle good as MSU football camp begins

Nick Fitzgerald

Staff Writer

The tape was tight around Nick Fitzgerald’s right ankle.

On Friday, Fitzgerald – Mississippi State’s senior quarterback – took to the practice fields as MSU began preseason training camp. It was the first time since Fitzgerald’s ankle was gruesomely broken in last year’s Egg Bowl that Fitzgerald could play football with no limitations. To say Fitzgerald was happy would be an understatement.

“Oh man, it felt great,” Fitzgerald said afterwards. “Obviously, it’s taped up really tight, making sure (the ankle) isn’t going anywhere, but now I feel great and I’m excited to be back out there.”

To simply sit back and watch Fitzgerald practice on Friday, outside of the tape, there was little visual evidence that it was just over eight months ago that Fitzgerald lay on the field at Davis Wade Stadium with his lower leg disfigured.

“He was moving around well,” MSU head coach Joe Moorhead said of Fitzgerald’s Friday. “There were no signs of any lingering issues.”

Fitzgerald admitted afterwards that his injury isn’t completely in the past. He says the ankle still feels tight from time to time. Yet it’s nothing that seems as though it’ll impact his performance in any way going forward.

“There’s nothing crazy about it,” Fitzgerald said when asked if he still feels soreness. “It’s very reasonable and very manageable.”

So now, rebuilt and recovered, Fitzgerald can finally pretty much put the ankle injury behind him. There’ll be reminders for sure. Outside of occasional soreness, Fitzgerald is going to see a lighter load this preseason as a precaution.

“The one thing our training staff has talked about is just managing and limiting (Fitzgerald’s) reps as camp progresses to make sure we’re not putting any unnecessary wear and tear on (the ankle),” Moorhead said. “We’re going to kind of gradually do things, but there are no restrictions on him right now.”

Yet as the Bulldogs protect their quarterback, Fitzgerald will still be busy learning the ins and outs of Moorhead’s offensive style. It’s an offense built on explosive plays. Fitzgerald will be counted on to throw deep like never before.

Is Fitzgerald – a signal caller better known for his running ability than his arm – hesitant about the increased pressure on his passing game? Not at all. In fact, he’s embracing it.

“We want to take shots and get big chunk plays,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not really trying to have 10 or 14-play drives, so it’s a little bit different philosophy than we’ve been used to. We’re going to take shots down the field. The reads are very reasonable. They’re a little more natural to me I think. It’s a good scheme. I’m excited to run it.”

Perhaps the Moorhead style comes at just the perfect time for this phase of FItzgerald’s career. Maybe Fitzgerald can protect his ankle by running the football a little less.

Don’t be mistaken though. The days of Fitzgerald running the football aren’t done. He’s still more than willing and able to do his share on the ground when need be.

“I don’t think I’ll have to go out there and run for 1,000 yards this year,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously I’d love to, I just don’t think that’s going to exactly be our philosophy for the quarterback to run the ball all over the place.
“I definitely will still get plenty of touches and plenty of zone reads to pull the ball and make some plays.”

Fitzgerald will first get the chance to throw and run the football in a real game again on September 1 when the Bulldogs open the season against Stephen F. Austin. That game is also likely to feature another first for Fitzgerald as he works his way back from his injury – his first hit since getting hurt.

MSU’s quarterbacks are never live during the course of training camp, so Fitzgerald doesn’t have to worry about getting tackled or taking a shot to the ankle the next four weeks.

Come September 1, that won’t be the case. For some, that fact might create a little hesitation. Not for Fitzgerald though. In his mind, he’s already back. He doesn’t need to take a lick to prove it.

“The hit will come,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not really worried about getting back before that happens.”