To say that Bryant Fitzgerald has had an interesting start to his career at Indiana would be a major understatement.
Interesting probably isn’t the right word. Unfortunate? No, probably the best way to describe it is simply…ridiculous.
Fitzgerald, who was by some accounts the top high school defensive back in the state of Indiana in 2016 was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for his freshman season at IU. The Avon, Indiana native received bad advice from the IU Athletic Department regarding how to ensure that he was qualified to play his freshman year. No doubt about it — IU screwed up, and they admitted as much.
It’s a part of life. This kind of stuff happens — people make mistakes. The real magic happens when level-headed people step up and make things right. The NCAA? It made things worse.
First, here is the full release at the time from Athletic Director Fred Glass:
According to Glass, the NCAA had the option to issue a waiver that would have permitted Fitzgerald to play. Instead, as they seemingly so often do, the NCAA punished someone that did nothing wrong. The organization that purports to stand for the student athlete failed Fitzgerald miserably. Simply…ridiculous.
Fitzgerald was a prized recruit for IU’s class of 2017. He was ranked the No. 4 prospect in Indiana and the No. 31 safety nationally by ESPN. He would have likely seen the field in 2017, an experience that would have been invaluable coming into 2018.
From seeing Kevin Wilson get fired after his commitment to play for IU, to enduring the painstaking idiocy of the NCAA, Fitzgerald had every reason to move on. One thing is clear — his heart is in Bloomington, and now, a year later, it truly is time to move on.
Fitzgerald finally got to put the pads back on in the Spring, but things were still changing for the 6-foot-0, 215 pound defensive back. Originally envisioned by the coaches as playing the Husky position, Fitzgerald was now being asked to move to free safety.
Despite never participating in a practice during his freshman year, Fitzgerald took the position change as the opportunity to become a vocal team leader. In multiple interviews from the Spring he emphasized the need to lead from his new position. Bryant Fitzgerald had already moved on.
Now in fall camp, and still just a redshirt freshman that has never seen the field on game day, Fitzgerald is emphasizing “helping the young guys” as one of his areas of focus as the season approaches.
He wasn’t even allowed to practice last year, and he’s already looking to be a leader on this football team. Apparently he’s a quick study. Someone should have told the NCAA. Oh that’s right, we’re moving on.
Fitzgerald’s efforts to date have already landed him on the team’s first two-deep depth chart that was published last month. He clearly didn’t throw-away that lost true freshman season.
Despite not being able to put on the pads, Fitzgerald was still able to train, observe, study the playbook and support his teammates last year. He told a pool of reporters in the Spring that it was basically the same as a redshirt season. It takes a level headed young man to look at it that way. Are you watching this NCAA? Oops, did it again.
If you’ve been paying attention to Indiana football this off season, you know that there has been substantial buzz surrounding the Hoosiers’ new training staff. Guess who has taken full advantage of that program?
When he was asked which of his players has stood out the most from a speed and training perspective, Fitzgerald was the first person that came to the mind of safety coach Kasey Teegardin.
“Bryant Fitzgerald, you look at a guy that has a linebacker body, and then the way he moves. J-Shun (Harris) had a phenomenal play yesterday, caught it on the run, spun outside, Fitz was our back side safety and actually walked him down to the three yard line. To catch a guy like J-Shun Harris is really impressive.”
It seems clear that Fitzgerald is destined to see significant playing time this year. Be on the lookout for number 31. Long term, he is on course to end up being a star at IU, with this whole NCAA fiasco long gone in the rear view mirror.
Bryant Fitzgerald’s special combination of athletic gifts, composure and perseverance are going to take him places. That seems clear. And that is something that no one can take away — not even the NCAA. He’s better at this whole moving on thing than we are.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier