In a time when NFL players are known as much for their criminal behavior as they are for their spectacular plays on the field, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a welcome change.
And I’m proud to say he’s from Minnesota.
Fitzgerald returns every summer to his home state to host an NFL camp for youngsters interested in pursuing a football career. He puts together a collection of the NFL’s elite from all positions (according to the Associated Press, previous players to participate as mentors have included Greg Jennings, Cris Carter (one of Fitzgerald’s mentors), Jerry Rice, Brandon Marshall, and many others) to create an intensive training camp for students of the game – many of whom have just graduated from college.
In his seventh year as an NFL player, the 26-year-old Fitzgerald understands the importance of watching the pros. According to Wikipedia, Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1990s, which were some of Minnesota’s shining years (who can forget the luminous 1998 season and introduction of wide receiver Randy Moss?) and a perfect foil for a young Fitzgerald, who was to become one of the most talented and explosive wide receivers in the 2000s.
The Associated Press reports that Fitzgerald’s years of tagging along behind Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, Moss, running back Robert Smith, and quarterback Daunte Culpeper prompted him to create his intensive Minnesota summer camp. Every successful professional – in any field – will tell you to model your behavior and performance after the best in the business, and Fitzgerald found that to be true. So true, that he wanted to pass the experience on to others.
But Larry Fitzgerald is a different breed of National Football League Pro-Bowl player. Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, a guest instructor at this year’s camp, says of Fitzgerald, “Most guys don’t get this until after they’re out of the League. Very few do this. It speaks to his maturity” (Associated Press).
Fitzgerald, known in the media as Sticky Fingers, is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Regularly surpassing 1,000 yards per season, according to ESPN, Fitzgerald has only fumbled five times in his seven-year career – and of those five fumbles, he’s only lost the ball three times (he has 59 career touchdowns and 359 career first downs).
So, not only is Larry Fitzgerald a tremendous football player, he’s somebody worthy of being a mentor and role model. Even in his mid-twenties, Fitzgerald understands the importance of giving back, and that’s something other NFL stars should start paying attention to.