Top 2003 sports story? Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
It's not often that the top sports story for 2003 would be someone that I know very well, but after thinking long and hard about it, what Larry Fitzgerald Jr. accomplished last year on and off the field was the most compelling story of the year.
First of all, the Kobe Bryant sexual assault story was selected by most organizations as the top story of the year, but for me the top story does not have to be about a superstar who has shamed and jeopardized his career.
Plus, I like positive stories; the great Lance Armstrong overcoming his personal battle with cancer to win another Tour DeFrance was No. 2 for me. The Minnesota Wild in their third year reaching the Stanley Cup semifinals was another remarkable accomplishment. But what Larry Jr. has done in view of the magnitude of the personal loss of his mother Carol makes his story very special.
In case you missed what he accomplished, here it is: He set an NCAA record of catching at least one touchdown pass in 18 straight games (the previous mark was 13 games). He has scored 34 touchdowns in two college seasons in just 26 games, also an NCAA record.
He tied Randy Moss's NCAA record of scoring in 12 straight regular season games, and broke his most-yards record of 1,647 in a season by a sophomore; the new mark is 1,670 yards. He set nine Big East Conference records and 12 University of Pittsburgh records. The 2003 season is believed to be the strongest, deepest, and most talented group of receivers in the history of college football.
And Larry Jr. was unanimously selected first-team to every major All-America Team, capturing the Biletnikoff Award, Walter Camp College Player of the Year, Columbus Touchdown Club Player of the Year, Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Washington Touchdown Club Offensive Player of the Year, Heisman Trophy runner-up, and Maxwell Award runner-up.
No player in the history of college football has achieved what Larry Jr. has in his first two years of play. And he did it with style, grace and dignity. In a season when he was driven by tragedy and has been the focus of numerous national stories speculating on whether he will challenge the NFL underclassmen eligibility rule, Fitzgerald has maintained his focus. He sat down with me recently and talked about his achievements.
Fitz: Larry Jr., congratulations on a great season!
Larry Jr.: Thank you, Dad. It's a tremendous effort by our team, and I'm honored to be recognized by the ***Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder***.
Fitz: Tell me about this season for you -- the NCAA records, the streak of 18 straight games with at least one touchdown.
Larry Jr.: It's been difficult. Teams have really tried to stop me from scoring, but my head coach and offensive coordinator have continued to do a good job of finding ways of getting me open and getting me into the end zone.
Fitz: What a season for you -- 1,670 yards, 92 receptions, 22 touchdowns. Was that a goal you set? What type of numbers did you have in your mind when this year started?
Larry Jr.: I wanted to put up some big numbers and put myself on the radar in terms of being one of the top receivers and players in the country. The numbers I put up this year I never set as a goal, but I did have pretty lofty goals for myself.
Fitz: Talk about the experience of week-to-week pressure with the streak. Was it something you were conscious of every game?
Larry Jr.: It's kind of made conscious to you by everybody saying it to you, but you want to get a touchdown every week. But most importantly, you want to come out of the game with a victory.
Fitz: How disappointing was it to lose the Big East Championship game at home to Miami, with that Big East title ring and a chance to play on New Year's Day in the Orange Bowl?
Larry Jr.: It was very disappointing, because we did not come out and play to our full potential. That's something that we will have to live with for the rest of our lives.
Fitz: Talk to me about the Heisman experience -- that night, the buildup, that two-hour extravaganza.
Larry Jr.: I think it's a real long ceremony. It's great to be there, it's great to be mentioned with some of the players that are there, but I think the program was a little long. I would love to go back, though.
Fitz: Did you feel like you had it in the final minutes, that that trophy was going to be yours?
Larry Jr.: I envisioned myself winning and being able to take that trophy home. But when reality hit and I did not come out with it, I realized that I've got more to work for, more incentive to come back and prepare myself the way I did this year, to be as dominant next year as well.
Fitz: Getting to know Eli Manning and Jason White and Chris Perry, the other Heisman finalists to share the experience of New York City and the Heisman event, what was that experience like getting to know those All-Americans?
Larry Jr.: Those guys are all good guys. Not just being tremendous talents like they are, but they are really good people and down-to-earth, and it shows you why they have done so well. Because they prepared themselves as well, just like I tried to do, to become the best players that we can be.
Fitz: What can you tell young people who have watched you play the last two years and want to do what you've done? What can these young people do to emulate some of the things that you've done to make themselves better people and football players?
Larry Jr.: Just never give up hope and continue to strive and achieve your dreams. Don't ever think the bar is set too high. Because with hard work and God in your life, anything is possible.
Fitz: What have the holidays been like without your Mom? She loved this time of year.
Larry Jr.: It's been tough. It was not the best Christmas, but we got a lot of family support, and I think that we'll make it through.