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Panthers’ Fitzgerald becoming talk of town

The questions came at Walt Harris in every direction: What are Larry Fitzgerald’s Heisman Trophy chances• Does he inspire your team• What kind of kid is he• How did you recruit him• Is he enjoyable to coach?

Harris barely got a word in edge-wise about anything pertaining to Pitt football — other than Fitzgerald — during his 12-minute session on the Big East teleconference Monday morning.

It was another example of the Fitzgerald Phenomenon, which has struck a chord with the national media. The sophomore wide receiver from Minneapolis is the topic du jour when it comes to the 15th-ranked Panthers (3-1), who are off this week before returning for a meeting with Notre Dame (1-3) on Oct. 11 at Heinz Field.

Kickoff for the Fighting Irish contest is 6 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Harris did not flinch while being peppered with queries about his star wideout, who has 32 catches for 583 yards with nine touchdowns. He leads the nation with an average of 145.75 receiving yards per game and yesterday was named the Big East Co-offensvie Player of the Week.

Fitzgerald had seven catches for 135 yards with touchdown receptions of 34, 5 and 49 yards in the Panthers’ 37-26 victory over Texas A&M this past Saturday.

“He’s something,” Harris said. “I didn’t see his last touchdown very well, but it looked unbelievable, like a miracle catch. Then, I watched it on tape and it was one of his great catches.”

On the 49-yarder, Fitzgerald adjusted his body, bent backwards, then caught the ball over his head while surrounded by three defenders. It was Randy Moss-esque, but that wasn’t even Harris’ favorite.

The Pitt coach was more impressed with an end zone grab by Fitzgerald that was ruled out of bounds.

“It was one of the greatest displays of guts,” Harris said. “There were cornerbacks coming at him from both sides and it didn’t stop him. He jackknifed through and made the catch. It was an example of pure guts, as well as unbelievable skills.”

It is rare for Harris to gloat extensively about one of his players, but he can barely contain himself when it comes to Fitzgerald.

“His greatest skill is his ability to sight the ball,” Harris said. “Of course, he’s huge (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), which adds to the intimidation factor when the ball’s in the air. I think they (defenders) get intimidated when the ball’s in the air. The other thing is, he has a gift, which he’s earned, of strength in his hands. No one pulls the ball away from him.”

Harris continued.

“It’s not just when the ball’s in the air, either,” Harris said. “He’s gutty. He’ll block you. He’s a team player. When Princell Brockenbrough broke loose (on a 67-yard reception) and didn’t break it because he had hurt his ankle, the first guy over there to bump into his chest — like the kids do — was Larry. … He’s a great example for young kids.”

Harris added that Fitzgerald, a mild-mannered 20-year-old who says “yes sir” and “no sir,” is just as impressive off the field.

“He has respect for the game,” Harris said. “He doesn’t trash talk. … He’s just a tremendous young man to be around.”

  • NOTES: Harris could not provide extensive information on several players who were injured before or during the Texas A&M game. He did say that senior linebacker Lewis Moore injured a neck muscle in the second quarter. He also added that senior wide receiver Chris Curd, who wore an air cast after leaving the game with a first-quarter knee injury, would be out the longest among the injured players. Senior defensive end Claude Harriott sprained his right ankle Saturday, but Harris didn’t know whether it was a high sprain. “We’re fortunate to have a bye this week,” said Harris, who added, “We’re going to take a couple days off here and try to resume practice Thursday.”


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