Fitzhugh Learns a New Position ... Again

Fitzhugh Learns a New Position ... Again

For the third straight spring, Keith Fitzhugh finds himself learning a new position. The 5-foot-11 and 206-pound Georgia native came to Starkville as a cornerback, a spot he played in a reserve role. Then last year as a sophomore, Fitzhugh moved back in the secondary and lined up at strong safety. And this spring with the move of Derek Pegues to strong safety, Fitzhugh has moved to free safety.

But maybe learning isn't the proper word, according to Fitzhugh. More like adding another dimension to his game.

"Yes, in a way I guess you could say I am playing a new spot," said Fitzhugh. "There are a few differences in the schemes and all. I am coming down in the box more now with Derek coming over the top. It's kind of like playing middle linebacker, really. But I am fine with the move. There are very few changes and the overall scheme remains the same."

Fitzhugh enjoyed a banner season last year, totaling 59 tackles to rank fourth on the squad and is the second-leading returning tackler.

He also added a crucial interception at Georgia, had a fumble recovery, three deflected passes and one tackle for loss.

And while Fitzhugh puts the finishing touches on his new position, the rising junior is also lending a helping hand to the underclassmen.

And who better to learn from?

After graduating from Lovejoy High School a semester early, Fitzhugh enrolled early at Mississippi State and participated in the spring drills of 2005.

As he enters his third spring session, Fitzhugh plans to pass down his SEC knowledge.

"It helped me so much coming in that first spring practice, right out of high school," said Fitzhugh. "It helped me get my timing down, learn the schemes and plays and things like that.

"Now I am a veteran of spring practice, competing in my third one. Now I can help the younger guys, keep them motivated. I feel very fortunate to be going through my third spring practice and you have to use it to your advantage."

Which should benefit in the fact that State will move a pair of corners - Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington - to the starting spotlight.

"We are close to the corners and hang out with them a lot," said Fitzhugh. "We are already telling them about things that will be going on in the game and the type of guys they are going to be facing. We just want to enlighten the new corners as best we can and get them prepared for what we will face in the fall."

Fitzhugh will experience a reunion of sorts as well at his new spot on the field.

"When I first got here, Derek and I were both corners and got real close and attached to each other," said Fitzhugh. "Then our sophomore year, I wound up moving to safety and he stayed at cornerback.

"Now it's like a do-over all over again. We are back together and we are comfortable again. Derek had to learn the schemes over again with moving around and all but he's doing a good job right now."

Before spring training got underway, many of the questions surrounded the big bodies up front.

Antonio Johnson, Deljuan Robinson, Michael Heard and Andrew Powell all used up their eligibility last season and helped the Bulldogs form one of the most feared defensive lines in the Southeastern Conference.

Although there will be a new faces mixed in with a few veterans, Fitzhugh doesn't expect much drop off, if any, along the defensive line.

And a steady defensive line can make the jobs of Fitzhugh and his secondary mates a little more stress free.

"I think it's going to be the same," said Fitzhugh. "We have Titus Brown back, Kyle Love played a lot last year and have some other guys that can play, too. We have Jessie Bowman in here and Quinton Wesley can play.

"As a unit in the secondary, we have to take care of our business and know that the guys up front will do the same. I know they have enough talent up front to take care of business."

As he preps for his junior campaign, Fitzhugh continues to draw strength from his sister, Brittany Fitzhugh, who passed away at the young age of 14 years old in the spring of 2005, just after Fitzhugh arrived on campus as a full-time student.

Brittany Fitzhugh fought a long battle with muscular dystrophy (MS) and will always be her older brother's inspiration.

"She still motivates me to this day," said Fitzhugh. "She is still in my heart and I carry her on my arm all the time, wearing a tattoo that says Brittany. She is gone now but my mom is still struggling sometimes and I have to be there for my mom.

"My mom was strong during the whole situation and she is still strong. Sometimes when things are tough and I want to just sit down and cry, my sister still motivates me to get back up. Now I have to make sure I take care of my mom and make sure everything is taken care of at home."

Fitzhugh is also drawing motivation from another area.

He understands the importance of this season, and the need for the Bulldogs to translate improvement into the win/loss column.

And Fitzhugh realizes most of the onus to turn around the program depends on his class.

"This is a very important year, and it's Coach Croom's fourth year with us now," said Fitzhugh. "This is the junior year for a lot of guys on the team and it's time for us to get our names out there and make a statement.

"Coach Croom told us this is the time for us to step up. And I believe this is the time that we will step up."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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