Legendary Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been torching opposing secondaries for 17 years. The future Hall of Famer is one of the greatest wideouts in NFL history, having spent his entire career in Glendale since being drafted by the Cardinals in the 2004 NFL Draft.
The NFL Draft wasn't Fitzgerald's first connection to professional football. Far from it, in fact. Back when he was in high school, Fitz actually served as the ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings. That's where he learned first-hand from guys like Cris Carter and Randy Moss.
Larry Fitzgerald Vikings Ball Boy
Grew up in the game. pic.twitter.com/CqdKhWBZcy
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) August 5, 2020
#BEREDSEERED Larry Fitzgerald as a ball boy for The Minnesota Vikings. Now one of the greatest receivers to play the game #FBF #Post #Assignment #SocialMedia #SCState #SCStateBulldogs pic.twitter.com/OYweR6ZeeO
— Cameron Hardison (@cameronhardiso5) March 30, 2021
Larry Fitzgerald grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He was a standout wide receiver at the Academy of Holy Angels, where he was a two-time All-State and All-American player. While he was a teenager, he worked for his hometown Minnesota Vikings during their offseason training camp. It was there that Fitzgerald reportedly impressed the Twin Cities' star wide receivers, Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
Fitzgerald would assist with special teams drills and he eventually began working his way into them.
"They'd shoot the JUGS machine as high as the ball would go and as far as it would go, and on top of that Mankato hill, it was always windy. Very difficult conditions to catch punts, and none of the young guys could catch them--but Larry could," Longtime Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan told vikings.com.
"And he was so smooth in catching the ball. I just remember all the veterans would line up and watch--guys like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, John Randle. They'd just watch this kid catch punts off the JUGS machine. And they were impressed."
— Footballzone (@UReady4Football) March 18, 2021
Fitz spoke highly of the opportunity he received as a youngster, thanking head coach Dennis Green for allowing him to be exposed to such high levels of talent at a young age.
"You know just being around your childhood idols," Fitzgerald told vikings.com. "Coach Green gave me an opportunity of a lifetime to be around Cris Carter, Warren Moon, Joey Browner, Randy Moss and Robert Smith. I can go on and on. To see their work ethic and dedication to their craft, that was really an eye-opening experience for a 14-year-old, 15-year-old. It was like on-the-job training almost."
Whether or not his trip to offseason camp had a significant impact on Fitzgerald's own NFL career remains unclear, but the Vikings should try to take as much credit for his success as they can.
Larry Fitzgerald NFL Career
Being around the game at a young age must have paid off.
Across his 17 NFL seasons, Larry Fitzgerald Jr. has logged 1,432 receptions, 121 touchdowns and 17,492 receiving yards, all numbers which will result in him getting inducted into the Hall of Fame when he eventually retires.
The 37-year-old is an 11-time Pro Bowl wideout and has played in nine playoff games throughout his career, including a crushing Super Bowl defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While he's no longer the perennial 1,000-receiving yard threat he was in days past, Fitzgerald has played a vital role as a mentor to the young offensive players in Arizona such as Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins.
Currently a free agent, Fitzgerald's future in the league remains uncertain. Should he return to Arizona, he'd be doing so alongside fellow veteran wide receiver AJ Green, who signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals in 2021, per ESPN.
Hopefully 2020 wasn't Fitzgerald's last year in the NFL. It's not often a player with over 1,000 career receptions hits free agency, so there will surely be some interest in the veteran 37-year-old. Perhaps a reunion with the Minnesota Vikings could be in order, where Fitz could provide depth and help mentor the likes of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, as well as reconvening with former teammate Patrick Peterson, who signed there in the offseason.
Maybe he'll even pay homage to his old gig by serving as the team's ball boy. Make it happen, Vikings.
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