ATHENS — Football is a game of sacrifice and overcoming adversity, and there might not be a better example of that on the 2021 CFP Champion Georgia than John FitzPatrick.
The game captain and starting tight end played more than half of last season with broken bones in his feet that required postseason surgery.
“He’s a guy that probably needed surgery about halfway through the year,” Smart said, speaking on FitzPatrick before any of the other UGA players at the team’s Pro Day on Wednesday.
“He chose not to have that surgery, he wanted to play out the year, he did that and did a really good job for us.”
It was a matter of FitzPatrick, a redshirt junior from the Marist School in Atlanta, putting team goals ahead of personal goals.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” said FitzPatrick, who essentially sacrificed opportunities to take part in postseason NFL evaluation work at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine to help lead the Bulldogs to the national championship.
Much like Clark Kent, Georgia tight end John FitzPatrick (86) was performing heroics behind the scenes that the public did not know about, playing more than half the season with broken bones in his feet that required postseason surgery.
. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)
“If I was able to go, I was going to go, no matter what I was playing through. You see how special of a team it is, you want to be on the field contributing any way that you can, and I was able to do so. I was proud to be a part of the team and how we closed it out.”
FitzPatrick’s numbers last season — 6 catches, 83 yards — do not begin to tell the story of how important he was in the Bulldogs’ run and pass game.
FitzPatrick’s inline blocking skills and ability to take out defenders in space was noteworthy against the likes of Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson in two meetings with the Tide, and much-hyped Michigan ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
FitzPatrick’s bone-crunching blocks and polished technique have led to several comparisons to former UGA tight end Charlie Woerner, who recently completed his second season with the San Francisco 49ers.
“Teams mention that, and they’ve said they’ve seen similarities,” FitzPatrick said. “It has been awesome having that role model. He took me under his wing a couple of years back, and it’s been exciting to be a part of that tight end legacy.”
Indeed, just as FitzPatrick led the tight ends room this season and helped FWAA Freshman of the Year Brock Bowers learn the offense and evolve into stardom.
“Fitz” knew better than anyone his limitations with the injuries and was more than happy to help younger players like Bowers and Darnell Washington thrive in the pass game.
“I came to Georgia to accomplish certain things, one being a degree, two being a national championship,” FitzPatrick said, asked why he chose to turn pro after this past season.
“I played with many great tight ends throughout my career and I see them excelling, and I’m ready to move on to the next chapter, as well.”
FitzPatrick will do so with a bigger frame, having spent the past 2 1/2 months in the weight room, bulking up from 250 to 265.
Smart noted that NFL teams want to see a bigger, stronger version of FitzPatrick, and he will also soon be able to run for teams in individual workouts leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft (April 28-30).
“The good news is he’ll be healthy for all the minicamps and all the OTA days whenever he gets to the league,” Smart said. “He’s bulked up some, I think he’s jumped to 265, (because) they want him to be able to play the “Y,” so he’s added some weight.
“He hopefully will get to work out maybe in April for some teams when he’s healthy.”
FitzPatrick verified Smart’s report, sharing that he underwent surgery to repair stress fractures in the fifth metatarsal bone area on his left foot on Jan. 12, two days after the national title game and had the fifth metatarsal bone area on his right foot surgically repaired four weeks later.
“Right now, I start running next week,” said FitzPatrick, who most certainly would have been the 15th UGA player invited to the NFL Combine this year had he been healthy. That will be six weeks out from my second surgery.
“I’ve been in the weight room the last 2 1/2 or 3 months, all I’ve been doing has been the weight room, and I think it’s paid off.”
No doubt, it seems only appropriate when one considers all the heavy lifting FitzPatrick was doing as a team leader behind the scenes last season as one of the hidden heroes in the 2021 national champion Bulldogs.