TAMPA – Robinson athlete Najee Fitzgerald is one of the most fun players to watch in Hillsborough County. Why? Because the rising senior quarterback/defensive back plays much bigger than his 5’10”, 164-pound frame.
In his first season playing on Robinson’s varsity squad, Fitzgerald earned opportunities under center with senior quarterback Malik Tyson in and out of the lineup due to a lingering ankle injury.
Fitzgerald tossed 376 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions as well as 108 rushing yards and a score on the ground. No play for him or the Knights last season was bigger than his nine-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Tomlin at Spoto on Oct. 23 in a 44-27 win.
On the play, Fitzgerald faked a handoff and without turning lobbed the ball over the Spartans defense (video here). Now, it goes down as one of the best plays if not the best in Robinson football history.
“We had practiced it during the week just for fun a little bit and it didn’t work very well,” Fitzgerald told Prep Sports Scouting. “Then in the game are offensive coordinator called the play. When coach Taylor first found out what we were running, he kind of went crazy and was like “stop, stop we need to call timeout.”
Fitzgerald added that they hiked the ball before Taylor could change the play. Once the Knights converted the touchdown, he said Taylor went crazy and got really pumped up about it.
When asking him if the play seemed as awesome as it looks on video, Fitzgerald said that during the game it didn’t seem like much.
“Once I saw it on film everybody was talking about it and I was like “wow that really was kind of cool.” It was pretty cool to just know that my name is out there now, to see our school on ESPN like that.”
In his limited opportunities, Fitzgerald has made the most of them whether that came last season at Plant relieving Tyson or most recently in the spring jamboree against Plant last month. He is undersized, but he says the defenders don’t really see his size as a threat.
“When I’m running they don’t really see it as, ‘I’m about to get run over by this guy or he might hit hard.’ I use that as motivation to hit harder and when they aren’t expecting it, it comes out.”
He did just that against Plant on a 3rd and long in Panthers territory just one month ago. After a pump fake, he flew down the left sideline and took on contact from Plant rising senior defensive back Deangelo Philyor to pick up the first down (video here).
Fitzgerald says that as he earned more reps last season, he got a better feel for the quarterback spot. He always sees room to improve. Prior to playing varsity last season, he spent freshman and sophomore year on JV playing quarterback, safety and cornerback.
On top of being the starting quarterback, Fitzgerald will be very involved at defensive back, a position he played a bit last season and plenty in the spring jamboree. He says that some colleges are looking at him as both a quarterback and defensive back.
No offers have come for Fitzgerald yet, but he has interest from both Brown and Davidson. He has attended camps at Florida A&M and Florida International the past two weeks and plans to go to a camp at Brown next month.
He says his biggest strength is his athleticism.
“I can pretty much play any of the skill positions and fit right in.”
He wants to be more vocal as a leader this season in his first full season as the starting varsity quarterback.
“Right now, I’m a laid back and quiet guy. I know I need to be louder as a quarterback and set the tone.”
Fitzgerald says he realized his potential during his eighth grade year when he won a state championship at quarterback in little league play.
Turning it around
Playing under fourth-year head coach Shawn Taylor is something Fitzgerald calls great. The Knights have gone 13-17 under his command the last three seasons, but seem destined to turn things around.
“It’s like having another teammate. He’s [Taylor] just there cheering you on the whole way through. Once he trusts you that’s it, he trusts you. You don’t want to let him down now.”
Fitzgerald says the mixture of young guys that are playing at a high level makes it seem like the Knights have a deep senior group.
“The seniors are taking over and leading a lot on and off the field to set a great example.”
Fitzgerald’s biggest role model is his dad, a former high school football player and a Air Force retiree.
He was undersized in high school also as a defensive back. He still pushes me to work harder, saying “you know you are shorter or smaller, but you can’t use that as an excuse.”
As for his ultimate goal with football, Fitzgerald wants to be one of the best.
“I want people to look back on it and say “he’s that guy, he’s really that good.”
He plans to study either law or psychology in college.
Down to earth, exciting to watch, packed with athleticism and grittiness, Fitzgerald is one of those players that you take for granted and then boom, he makes you pay with a big run or throw.
Najee Fitzgerald knows he’s an underdog and he’s embraced it fully. That’s why he’s in for a big season at Robinson. He has the right mindset and proved that time and time again over the last year and a half. Look out for Fitzgerald this season as the Knights look to get back into the playoff conversation.
Favorite player to watch – Sean Taylor, Karl Joseph, Drew Brees
Playlist before games – Kodak Black, YFN Lucci
Favorite movies – Deadpool, Four Brothers, Ride Along
Favorite TV shows – Modern Family, Archer
Fun fact about you that you think no one knows – “I put salt in my chocolate milk. It brings out a lot of the flavor.”
Nickname from teammates or friends – “Predator”, “Jee”
— Jake Perper (@JakePerper) May 19, 2016
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Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
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