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Doctors: Fitzgerald healing faster than expected


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was already on track to at least participate in spring practice in some capacity; recently, he got some good news from the doctors. 


Fitzgerald's father, Derrick, told The Dispatch that doctors said Nick Fitzgerald's ankle is healing quicker than they expected after his gruesome injury in the Egg Bowl. Nick Fitzgerald is on track to recover and rehabilitate over the winter to the point that he can participate in spring practice, even if limited in some ways from contact. 


Derrick Fitzgerald told The Dispatch after the Egg Bowl that Nick, "woke up from surgery cracking jokes." Since then, Nick's mother, Annetta, and Nick's girlfriend have spent time in Starkville helping Nick get around since he can't drive. 


When Nick Fitzgerald had surgery immediately after the Egg Bowl, part of it was inserting a screw to bring the two bones of his leg, the tibia and fibula, closer together so ligaments could regrow. Derrick Fitzgerald told The Dispatch the plan is to remove that screw after MSU's appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl and begin physical therapy immediately after that. 


The plan is to have Nick Fitzgerald active in spring practice, the first for new head coach Joe Moorhead, which is scheduled to end with the Maroon & White Game on April 21 at Davis-Wade Stadium. 


The road there comes in stages. 


"The first thing they want to do is just get motion back, because they've been demobilized for however long it is. Honestly, in an ankle situation, they have to learn to walk again," Brandon Johnson -- a certified trainer for Encore Rehab in Columbus -- said. "They want to walk with a peg leg or something like that because that's what they've been doing for so long." 


Once the athlete becomes comfortable with the simple motion of walking, progressing to the point of true conditioning is a matter of comfort. More times than not, Johnson said, doctors are willing to clear athletes to beginning activities such as jogging as soon as the athlete feels comfortable with it. 


Getting back to the traditional weightlifting programs deployed by college football programs takes a little more work. Johnson said the strengthening process begins with resistance bands, starting light and increasing resistance over time while targeting the ligaments in the injured joint. In the case of an ankle injury, regaining confidence in balance is also important, which lends itself to single-leg balance work. 


Once Nick Fitzgerald has shown progression in that regard, it's possible he is more poised to resume traditional weightlifting than other injuries. Johnson said he tends to take more caution with knee and hip injuries than he does with ankle injuries when it comes to squats. Johnson said some patients with knee and hip injuries have to start with squats where their legs stop at a 45-degree angle as opposed to the full squatting motion, whereas some ankle injuries don't inhibit progress in that regard. 


All of that will come after the bowl game. Nick Fitzgerald will be in Jacksonville with the team for the week and likely take some time immediately after the bowl game away from football, his father said. When he returns to school in January, he'll have two big projects: learning the Moorhead offense and learning to use his ankle again. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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