If productive defensive play starts up front, interior line coach Mo Latimore says, "We have a great group of guys who have good size, good quickness and good athletic ability."
Latimore, a former Wildcat standout in 1970-71, begins his 26th season with Kansas State's football program. Seldom has he been more excited about the prospects vying for snaps at the two defensive tackle positions.
"Some say the up-front guys are the ones who make the defense go, and I think we have some guys who can handle things in the middle that need to be handled," Latimore said.
"Things just didn't work out," Fitzgerald said of his transfer from the Cavaliers last year. "I knew there was a good coach here in coach (Ron) Prince, who had stayed in contact with the (Virginia) coaches. That's how I got here.
"I anticipated playing for coach Prince. I was shocked at first, but it just didn't work out that way," Fitzgerald said. "You adapt to the situation, and now I'm playing for a legend in coach (Bill) Snyder."
Fitzgerald arrived with just one year to play as he redshirted the 2005 season at Virginia, before starting 12 games in 2006 and 13 more in 2007 before his transfer.
"It was a long year not being able to help," said Fitzgerald, who also spent the season rehabbing after "several" minor knee surgeries. "I saw the game from a different perspective. I saw what the coaches see. I think it helped me grow as a player."
The Richmond, Va., native played defensive end and tight end for Mermitage High School. Scout.com ranked him as the 41st best defensive end in the country and he was ranked 28th best by CollegeFootballNews.com.
He was a unanimous freshman All-American at Virginia, plus the recipient of the Bill Dudley Award as Virginia's most outstanding first-year player. He topped the team with his six sacks and shared the team lead with 12 tackles for losses.
Starting 13 games as a sophomore, Fitzgerald was third on the team with 73 tackles, and second in tackles for loss with 11.5, which included 7.0 sacks.
Now as a Wildcat, he says, "This is my last chance to prove myself."
As for understanding the impact Snyder has had on K-State's program, Fitzgerald gave a candid, "Not totally. I just know he has a great reputation. I understand the respect he's earned and demands. I'm looking forward to playing for him. I just want to go out and give it everything I have."
The good news is that Latimore says fellow tackle Daniel Calvin (6-3, 310, Sr), plus backups Raphael Guidry (6-4, 274, Soph), Xzavier Stewart (6-1, 305, Jr) and Chidubamu Abana (6-4, 295, Sr) have the same give it everything attitudes.
"These guys take coaching and want to be good football players," Latimore said. "They have established themselves on the field to be good players."
Calvin, a 2007 transfer from Bakersfield College, started five games last year for the Wildcats, totaling 14 tackles; Stewart played in three games with three tackles in 2009; and Abana, a 2007 transfer from Santa Monica Community College), had five starts with a collection of eight tackles.
Latimore added, however, "They're good players, but you're never satisfied. All of them are capable of being even better."
DEFENSIVE TACKLE TWO-DEEP CANDIDATES
Chidubamu Abana, 6-4, 295, Sr, Virginia Beach, Va.
Daniel Calvin, 6-3, 310, Sr, Bakersfield, Ca.
Jeffrey Fitzgerald, 6-4, 280, Sr, Richmond, Va.
Raphael Guidry, 6-4, 274, Soph, Texas City, Texas
Xzavier Stewart, 6-1, 305, Jr, Chicago, Ill.