By JOEL COLEMAN
It has been four days since Nick Fitzgerald threw his first collegiate touchdown pass on Saturday in the fourth quarter of Mississippi State’s 62-13 win against Northwestern State. It’s safe to say that he has been enjoying it.
“After the game, I had a lot of social media things,” Fitzgerald said. “People have been recording it on their TVs and sending it to me. My friends back home, they’ve been texting it to me and that kind of thing. I think I’ve probably watched it 100 times between then and now just opening up text messages and seeing it.”
It was indeed a special moment for the 6-foot-5, 227-pound Richmond Hill, Georgia native, and one that almost didn’t happen. After heavy defensive pressure, Fitzgerald dodged a sack, rolled out and heaved the ball downfield for the 49-yard score.
“I made a move and made (the defender) miss and I was rolling away from pressure,” Fitzgerald said. “I was trying to find my check down or just somewhere to get the ball out of my hand without taking a sack. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Donald (Gray) with a hand up beating his guy. So I said ‘Let’s see if I have enough arm strength to do this.’ I threw it as hard as I could and it just happened to be out there and he made a great catch on it.”
Fitzgerald wasn’t the only MSU quarterback with his first touchdown toss last Saturday. In the third quarter Elijah Staley found Joe Morrow on a 37-yard scoring strike.
“Joe put a good move on the man outside,” Staley recalled. “I just knew I had to put the ball on the money so I could throw a touchdown. He made his move, I put it out there and as soon as it left my hands I knew it was a touchdown. It was just one of those feelings. It was a good ball and I knew it from the jump.”
Even without the touchdown pass, it was already a big day for Staley. When he stepped onto the field for MSU’s second offensive series of the second half, it served as his Bulldog debut.
“I was nervous before I went out there,” Staley said. “But when I stepped on the field, I honestly heard my mom say ‘Let’s go Elijah.’”
Staley said his mother, Sharon Campbell, was sitting several rows up in the parents’ section of Davis Wade Stadium, but her voice rang out loud and clear.
“I remember my brother used to always talk about how he could hear my mom during his basketball games but I never believed him,” Staley said. “Then, when I ran out there, she was the only thing I heard for the whole drive.”
Campbell’s loudest moment surely came when her son hit Morrow for the score. Staley said he didn’t look for his mother in the moments following the touchdown, instead focusing on soaking in the moment with his fellow Bulldogs.
“I wanted to celebrate with my teammates,” Staley said. “But I gave her a big hug after the game. I knew she was happy and my dad was happy. He hadn’t seen me play in a long time so it was just a happy moment overall.”
MSU quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is familiar with the excitement of throwing a first-ever touchdown pass in college. Back in 2004, serving as current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith’s backup at Utah, Johnson had his big moment. Speaking from experience, Johnson said both Fitzgerald and Staley will always remember their respective throws.
“Those plays, they’ll never forget them,” Johnson said. “Elijah will always remember the go route to Joe and Nick will always remember the big post to Donald. Both of those were far more impressive throws than I made. Those guys are extremely talented and definitely have a bright future.”
In the years to come, Fitzgerald and Staley will both most likely find the end zone numerous more times through the air. No matter how many touchdowns he throws though, Fitzgerald says he’ll never forget the first one.
“I think your first touchdown pass in college is something you’re going to remember no matter what,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a flat route or rolling to your left, throwing back to your right kind of thing. It’s just something I can brag about I guess a little bit.”