Nick Fitzgerald was sitting at Starkville Mexican food staple La Terraza with a group of friends when his phone started buzzing. A quick glance told him the incoming call was an unknown number out of Lousiana, so he sent it to voicemail and put his phone back down.
A minute later, his phone buzzed one more time, letting the Mississippi State quarterback know that he had a new voice message. Fitzgerald swiped his phone open to quickly listen while he ate.
“Hey, Nick,” the message began. “This is Archie Manning.”
“I almost dropped my phone,” Fitzgerald recalled. “I was like, what? My buddies looked at me like I was crazy. I was like, y’all don’t understand. So I put it on speaker and set it on the table. Everyone’s jaw just dropped.”
Naturally, the patriarch of the family was calling to invite Fitzgerald to the annual Manning Passing Academy, a summer football camp put on by the Manning family in which the best quarterbacks in college football are invited to serve as counselors. Fitzgerald arrives in Louisiana today to join Archie, Peyton, Eli and all the elite college quarterbacks from across the country.
Following his predecessors Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell, Fitzgerald is just the third MSU passer to be invited to the camp, and he plans to use the time to learn as much as he can from the Mannings, keeping his eyes and ears open for any nuggets of knowledge or helpful hints he can glean from the famous quarterbacks.
“Any time you can be around a family like the Mannings, you kind of just turn into a sponge and try to absorb everything you possibly can,” he said. “So you can hopefully get a little bit of coaching and at the same time have some fun, meet some new guys.”
As for the entirety of the offseason, Fitzgerald has been in Starkville taking summer classes and working out every day. Beyond the usual weightlifting, Fitzgerald says he has also been doing consistent work with resistance bands to help strengthen his shoulder and throwing arm, and putting himself through daily footwork drills has been an integral part of his offseason regimen.
The most important part, however, has been the extra work he and his teammates have put in together. Fitzgerald regularly gets together with receivers, tight ends and running backs to work on passing and timing. He gets together with his lineman to build chemistry and consistency. As groups, they’ve even been joining up to watch and study film.
In a period of the year where the only coach players can work with is their strength coach, Fitzgerald believes that players working together on their own can help them build off of spring practice and improve during the hot summer months even without real practices. And certainly, as one of the new stars of the SEC, Fitzgerald wants to build on his stellar first season as a starter and take both himself and his team to greater heights.
“I just keep working out,” he said, “keep building those relationships with our receivers, keep building trust up, keep building that leadership role and just trying to work hard.”