Since his pledge in early February, I've had a few conversations down at the Esquire in town about what the Illini have in the local standout.
My initial reaction — why not take him? He's from Champaign, seems to be a great kid (my opinion from my dealings with him) and has his academics on par with elite students.
This isn't basketball, where scholarships are limited and taking a chance on a kid can cost immensely down the road.
Is Fitzgerald a Big Ten talent? I can't say that yet. His offer sheet goes: Illinois, Harvard, Yale, Akron, FIU and Western Michigan. Obviously one of those schools is from a bigger conference than the others. I think he's borderline, with time still to prove if he is big time or not. I don't think he's as good as Chayce Crouch. And he's joining a position at Illinois that's quickly become choke full of talent. Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey could still be around when Fitzgerald enrolls. Jeff George, Jr., too.
I'm not ready to say Fitzgerald could blossom as a franchise-type guy. But I'm not going to say the staff made a bad move here. I think it's just the opposite. You never know what Bill Cubit can do with a prospect. With Fitzgerald's 6-3, 220-pound frame and good attitude, I think he'll make for a nice addition, whether he plays, starts or sits throughout.
We'll wait and see if he continues to progress through his senior season. Of course, we expect he will. He's already set school records at Centennial. As a junior, he threw for 2,008 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He had 406 yards on the ground with six scores.
Here's what I wrote about Fitz following a 7-on-7 camp in Memorial Stadium last June:
The local standout was the best quarterback I watched Friday. He recently picked up an offer from Yale after Illinois was the first school to offer in May, so there was a buzz about the kid on the sideline as many of us took the chance to see him.
The first thing that stood out to me was his size and look. He's at least 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, has a strong build and looks older than a rising junior in high school.
I liked his ability to look defensive backs off and then turn and make throws. He has good touch, but one knock I jotted down was that almost every throw was of the finesse variety. That was mostly due to the type of routes his receivers were running, but I wanted to see the kid wind up and throw a few. That didn't happen in the game I watched.
Still, the kid looked good, especially throwing to the right side of the field. He made a few throws on the run as well, keeping his throwing technique sound while moving out, each time on the run to the right.
I'd like to see how good of an arm he has before I make any serious judgements, but I did like Fitzgerald's body language and the way he led the offense. Centennial was 3-1 in it's first four games, so that's always a plus.