With 67,720 fewer fans in attendance at Ross-Ade Stadium than the raucous Beaver Stadium crowd the week prior, Penn State had to figure out a way to provide its own energy against Purdue on Saturday.
Insert strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.
The middle-aged assistant, who was wearing short sleeves in sub-40 degree weather, closed out the stretching portion of pregame warm-ups by ripping his shirt off and doing “the worm” in front of the team. Fitzgerald launched himself upward into the air, parallel to the ground, before performing the dance move that brought his players to a state of frenzy as they huddled toward him.
Linebacker Michael Mauti, whose heightened intensity before and during games is comparable to that of Fitzgerald’s, was one of the first to embrace the coach.
When asked if he was aware that he tackled Fitzgerald amid the chaos, Mauti said it was mainly a subconscious act.
“Yeah, I did [tackle him],” Mauti said. “I got pretty excited after I saw that. It was just unexpected, so I naturally got super excited. We were just jacked up.”
The assistant coach has become known for his unconventional coaching tactics throughout his first season in Happy Valley— there has been mention of Fitzgerald sporadically licking the floor if he messes up a warm-up activity.
However, center Matt Stankiewitch said the Nittany Lion coach opened a brand new page with the way he amped up the team before the game.
“When he tore his shirt off, I think it was a sign to say, ‘We’re going to create our own energy today,’ ” Stankiewitch said. “‘We’re not going to rely on Purdue’s stadium or Purdue’s fans to create more energy for us.’”
The Nittany Lions thrashed the Boilermakers, 34-9, before a quiet announced crowd of 40,098 — with many fans leaving well before the end of the game.
Fullback Michael Zordich said Fitzgerald’s unorthodox methods of increasing the team’s intensity, despite the setting, have become a staple of the coaching staff.
“I haven’t seen it anywhere else,” Zordich said. “It might be awkward. It might be weird. But that’s just normal with Fitz.”
Fitzgerald wasn’t the only assistant coach fired up during points of Saturday’s game, however. Typically mild-mannered quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher had to be held back from a Boilermaker after the player barreled into the coach on the sideline after a play in the fourth quarter.
Mauti said the underlying reason for the passion among both coaches and players demonstrates how much each member cares about the fate of the program.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 people in the stands. It doesn’t matter if anybody’s in the stands, whether it’s 110,000, or whether it’s no one,” Mauti said.
“We’re here to play football and we do it with passion and until that clock hits zero, we’re going to continue to play our best and give it 100 percent effort.”