There are a lot of words Penn State players used to describe the team’s new strength and conditioning program under Craig Fitzgerald, but one thing is for sure — it’s different.
“I just felt like we were so uptight these past years, [Fitzgerald] just made a better atmosphere,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “Guys just love it, every time we wake up, every time we get a chance to work out with Coach Fitz it’s always great. So I really just thank him for coming here my final year and just allowing this to happen.”
Morris added he and his teammates are having more fun during workouts with their new strength and conditioning coach. Though Penn State doesn’t start training camp until August 6, the team has had a chance to work with Fitzgerald since he was hired in January.
Fitzgerald, a Philadelphia native, spent the last three seasons in the same position at South Carolina before landing at Penn State as part of coach Bill O’Brien’s new staff. In his short time with the program, Fitzgerald has already restructured the Nittany Lions’ weight room in addition to changing the team’s workout regimen.
“At first it was really tough, but everything we’ve done has really paid off,” senior tight end Garry Gilliam said. “You can see it with our players, looking really great. Even within the workouts, everyone is competing.”
Competition is something Fitzgerald will often incorporate into his workouts according to players, which senior center Matt Stankiewitch said benefits the team.
“[There’s] a lot of competition, and that’s good,” Stankiewitch said. “You always want to strive to get better, you never want to stay still, you never want to be neutral. You always want to put your foot on the pedal and accelerate, so that’s what coach Fitz really tries to do.”
Last Friday, Fitzgerald brought a competitive atmosphere to Penn State’s annual “Lift For Life” event. For the first time in the event’s 10-year history, the Nittany Lion offense competed against the defense in several different tests of strength — an idea that was Fitzgerald’s.
The offense ended up edging the defense in the event, and players competed in a tug-of-war, tire flips and a sled pull among other activities. Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said those are actually some of the things Fitzgerald has the team do during its training sessions.
“This is some of the stuff that we do during our workouts,” Hill said. “Usually on our Friday morning workouts we do a lot of field work and stuff like that.”
In Fitzgerald and O’Brien’s first year with the event, the 2012 installment of “Lift For Life” event raised a record $110,374 for the Kidney Cancer Association.