There was more than just the youthful powers of recovery at work here. It was the sense of satisfaction at completing a hard day's workout as assigned by Coach Ben Pollard, and making another step of progress toward this team's ultimate goal. "It's getting better, that's it," said Fitzhugh.
Thursday's getting-better regimen was built around squats. "Some big, heavy squats," Fitzhugh reported. "And that is Coach Pollard's favorite thing. Big-time squats. When you put some big, heavy weights on the bar, he smiles all day long!" With reason, because heavy-weight squatting is the single key lift in Pollard's repertoire. No, not the most glamorous, nor something an athlete can use for bragging rights around town and campus.
"A lot of guys go to the gym to get pumped-up up top," Fitzhugh says. "And that's a plus when you're off the football field! But when you're on the field you definitely need the lower-body strength. So squats are the most important in having the ‘pop', the power down low." Yes, for speed guys just as much as muscle men.
"Squats help out in so many things. In being explosive, when you're a D-B back there or a big linebacker coming up and making tackles. And linemen put their hand on the ground but they have to be able to explode into the offensive lineman."
With such a heavy day on the weights the Bulldogs didn't have to run in groups, though Fitzhugh said players did put in some private conditioning work as they saw—and felt—fit. "We run about every other day," Fitzhugh reminded. "We do so much running I couldn't even tell you. From here to Georgia, that's probably how much running we do in a week! Sometimes I wish I was running home to Georgia, it's so hot here! But it's always a plus and when gametime comes we're ready to go."
Fitzhugh and peers often wish gametime was here, and not simply to get away from the weightroom. It's cliché but correct all the same that nothing succeeds like success. A healthy taste of 2007 success has given these Bulldogs the best sort of off-season motivation: the hunger for a bigger bite this next fall.
"Everything is better," Fitzhugh states, stoutly. "We know we ended the season up with a bowl win and that's good, that's on everybody's mind. But that's not nothing everybody wants to settle for. So every time we break it down we say ‘SEC champs' because that's what we're going to be."
You read rightly. This senior member of the secondary seriously believes Mississippi States' team will make the run to Atlanta. "Western Division champs, SEC champs," he repeats. "A lot of people probably don't have belief in that but I know as a team and our coaching staff we know how good we are." Tall talk to say the least, but as Fitzhugh adds "We (seniors) know this is our last go-round so we have to give it our all."
Then again, maybe Fitzhugh and his upperclass cohorts at safety know something extra about the 2008 gameplan. After all, their position coach, Charlie Harbison, is now in charge of the whole defense. Fitzhugh, along with fellow seniors Derek Pegues and De'Mon Glanton and soph Zach Smith, take more pride in Harbison's promotion than anyone else…not that they expect any special treatment.
"He is the defensive coordinator but he loves everybody the same," Fitzhugh says. "I just know he's a great person and he knows how to coach." As for changes to how the Dogs defend this fall, well, he doesn't forsee any radical differences. "Coach Harbison has his little tricks of the trade—this is for the media so I can't say too much!
"But as a team we know it's the players, it's really not the Xs-and-Os. If the players have their mind-frame right and we go out and do our thing, Coach Harbison is going to put us in the right positions to make plays." Maybe even enough plays to meet Fitzhugh's sky-high predictions that this can—no, make that will--be the number-one defense in the land. "That's how we defensive backs break it down; number-one DBs, number-one linebackers, number-one defensive linemen. If we put all that together we'll be the SEC champs."
Strong stuff to be sure. But then it would be out of Fitzhugh's character to be anything other than loud, proud…and grinning. Not even Pollard can wipe the smile off this face. "Sometimes he does try," Fitzhugh laughs. "But I know he's always there for me. He's just trying to get me better, get everybody else better, get everybody on the same page."