September 5, 2018 11:22:49 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Andrew Breiner got a text around noon. Mississippi State's quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator was in the office crafting the game plan on Monday, the players' off day, when he got a text from a player.
It was Nick Fitzgerald. He wanted to know if the game plan was ready; Breiner said not yet. Fitzgerald asked Breiner to send it to him when it's done -- as if that wouldn't happen anyway, as the starting quarterback.
"He's eager," Breiner said.
The signs of Fitzgerald's excitement are showing this week as he counts down to the first start of his senior season 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Kansas State (1-0). Fitzgerald was suspended for No. 18 MSU's season opener after a violation of team rules in March, a week away from his usual starting duties that, by all accounts, was handled well.
"Nick did a great job. Nick prepared as though he was going to play in the game," Breiner said. "He did that in order to help Keytaon, whether it was at practice talking through something, whether it was the game, talking him through what's different. Nick has such a bank of experience being a multiple-year starter, so from the beginning we knew we were going to have Nick prepare as if he were starting and he did that."
A week capable of starting without doing so was something new for Fitzgerald. His first two years were well-defined as a backup to Dak Prescott; when his shot to compete for the starting job came as a sophomore, he had it with no reservations by the end of the second game. He's been the primary quarterback ever since, when healthy, before this suspension.
Fitzgerald declined to get into the specifics of his violation or the timeline on which he was told he would be suspended for the Stephen F. Austin game. He said he enjoyed getting to watch his teammates play well, but it was balanced by regret.
"It was rough. I take full responsibility for the reason why I was out, I embraced my role on scout team and tried to give the defense the best look I possibly could," Fitzgerald said. "I wanted to make sure I was doing it better than their quarterback was so it was harder for them in practice."
Head coach Joe Moorhead said Fitzgerald did do well as a scout-team quarterback; he was also just as good in the week of practice and on gameday for Thompson, who turned the spot start into 364 passing yards and five touchdowns. Fitzgerald turned into a bit of a hype man for Thompson, ultimately predicting the touchdown on the first play of the game.
"Keytaon Thompson did an amazing job, which I knew he would," he said.
The second that 63-6 win ended, Fitzgerald returned to his mantle of starting quarterback. Luckily, he had an entire spring, summer and preseason to gain the trust of his teammates after his team rules violation, and by all accounts, he did just that.
That effort was recognized by the team voting him a captain.
"It was huge that I was voted captain, me and (senior defensive end) Gerri (Green)," Fitzgerald said. "It's an honor, coming from where I came from, coming from being a nobody to being a team captain, it's a huge deal. I've accepted my role, I've done everything I possibly can to be a good leader on- and off-the-field and I'm going to continue to do that."
The order of things being restored has definitely changed things, in Breiner's eyes. Breiner said he had to tell Fitzgerald to calm down during Tuesday's practice. Fitzgerald is well aware this will be his first time taking contact of any kind since his ankle injury in the Egg Bowl, and he knows, "just how sore I'm going to be the next day," but that impending pain doesn't seem to impact his enthusiasm for practice.
With that, MSU (1-0) can move on as scheduled. This is what the team was planning for all along, anyway, and it sees no reason for things to be different now that it finally has that status quo.
"For the rest of the guys, no. This is a big opportunity for our team to improve, improvement from game one to game two is a big deal," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. "I look for everybody to have big strides this week."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson