UGA TE John Fitzpatrick ‘competing really hard,’ working to ‘prove something’
The chance to come to Georgia and suit up in the red and black for the Bulldogs was the culmination of a dream for tight end John Fitzpatrick. However, Fitzpatrick’s hopes extend beyond just dressing out. He wants to play, and this season might provide that opportunity.
“I always knew I was going to be a Bulldog,” Fitzpatrick said at a DawgNation event at Marlow’s Tavern last January. “I wanted to sign as soon as I could. I wanted to become part of the program. There was never any thought of ‘Should I visit this [other] place? Go talk to these [other} coaches?’ I knew I wanted to be in Athens.”
Fitzpatrick — speaking a few months before he enrolled at UGA — also believed his chances of earning early playing time were strong.
“If you can come in early — if you work hard — you’re going to play,” Fitzpatrick said. “The coaches don’t care if you’re a veteran. If you come in and do your job, they’re going to give you some time.”
Fitzpatrick played in two games for Georgia last season (Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee State). That’s possibly less playing time than he wanted, but fighting his way up the depth chart was difficult.
The UGA coaches might not necessarily favor veterans, but experience still matters. Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner both had it, and they were the tight ends that played most.
Fitzpatrick — to his credit — apparently wasn’t bothered by his spot on the hierarchy. If anything, he seems focused to try and move up the pecking order.
UGA coach Kirby Smart recently complimented Fitzpatrick — as well as another 2018 signee.
“He works really hard and our weight program has helped him, as it has helped [offensive tackle] Owen Condon” Smart said. “It’s helped those guys go out there and get more strength. They lift during the season on Fridays and that pays off for them now because they’re further along because of all the work they did.”
Fitzpatrick’s development is likely coming at a good time for Georgia. Nauta — UGA’s top tight end last season — entered the NFL draft leaving a void next to Woerner for this upcoming season.
Smart addressed that point at the beginning of spring practice.
“We have a chance to replace a really good player in Isaac Nauta,” Smart said. “I think Charlie (Woerner) is ready to step up. He’s been a great leader… and I think John Fitzpatrick had a good off-season. So we’re going to find out what he can do.”
The early returns seem to be positive.
“John has looked really good,” Woerner said earlier this spring. “[He’s] fluid in the passing game, and he’s really improved his run blocking.”
Smart was recently more specific.
“I’m pleased with Fitz’s work,” Smart said after Saturday’s second spring scrimmage. “Fitz works really hard, and he’s blocking really big people, and he’s having to compete against big people for the first time. Last year, he didn’t go up against those type guys. This year, he’s getting thrown into the fire, but he’s competing really hard.”
The willingness to compete will be a necessity for Fitzpatrick. UGA’s tight end depth might appear to be thin now, but that will be less true come summer.
UGA is expected to add grad transfer Eli Wolf from Tennessee. 3-star recruit Brett Seither signed with Georgia in February, and 4-star prospect Ryland Goede’s ACL tear could also be heeled by then — not to mention walk-ons Kolby Wyatt and Peyton Mercer.
“We’ve got a big group coming in there. So, that’ll be— depending on how good those young guys are and if we get anyone else who’s able to help us— that’ll be key,” Smart said.
Smart was recently even more candid on the subject.
“Where guys have to prove something is a guy that has somebody coming in and he’s not proven,” Smart said. “He has to take advantage of it because we tell them in the fall, those reps — when they become marginal — are going to the new guy to find out what he can do.”
In other words, Seither, Goede and Wolf will get a long look this summer, but until they arrive, there are extra practice reps for the players already on campus.
Fitzpatrick is apparently trying to take advantage of each one.