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Pitt receiver taking one step at a time

12/10/2003 - Pittsburgh Panthers

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald
sidestepped questions Wednesday about whether he will return next
season or try to enter the NFL draft.

In what might have been a telling comment, though, Fitzgerald
emphasized Pitt's offense will be in transition next season without
quarterback Rod Rutherford -- possibly an indication the NFL is
becoming more and more attractive.

Tyler Palko and Luke Getsy, a pair of former Pittsburgh-area
high school players who have played little at Pitt, will compete at
quarterback next season. Palko is the early favorite but doesn't
possess the strong throwing arm Rutherford does.

Pitt's offensive line also will be gutted by graduation following a disappointing season that saw the Panthers (8-4) reach the Top 10, only to slip out of the national rankings after losing four of their final nine.

Asked about his future at Pitt, Fitzgerald talked only about the
near term -- his role as a recruiter, not a receiver. He said
finances won't enter into the decision because he can afford to
remain in school without any immediate money worries.

"This team is going to be in a rebuilding year next year, [but]
I think I can be a piece of the puzzle in attracting some big-time
recruits," he said. "We have a lot of guys coming on visits this
week that can impact the program. I want to help the program any
way I can."

He would do that by staying, but he understands he isn't likely
to match this season's statistics -- 87 receptions for 1,595 yards
and 22 touchdowns -- in a rebuilt offense. Nor is Pitt likely to
challenge for a major bowl with so many new starters.

Fitzgerald admires quarterback Eli Manning for staying at Mississippi for his senior season but wouldn't say if that would
influence his own decision.

Pitt faces Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 27.

"I'm going to play the bowl game and let the pieces fall where
they fall," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not saying that's going to be my last game."

Fitzgerald, whose statistics in his first two college seasons
(156 catches, 34 touchdowns) rival or surpass those of nearly every
receiver to ever play in Division I-A, hasn't talked to the NFL
about his possible draft eligibility.

The NFL allows college players into the draft once they've been
out of high school for three years. Fitzgerald's original high
school class graduated in 2001, but he spent a year at a prep
school before enrolling at Pitt in 2002.

It's possible whatever ruling the NFL makes on former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett's eligibility might affect Fitzgerald. Clarett, who played only one college season, is expected to challenge in court the NFL's three-year waiting period.

Fitzgerald wouldn't rate his Heisman chances but recognizes
Pitt's late-season losses in nationally televised games to Notre Dame, West Virginia and Miami will work against him.

He also knows what the Heisman would mean. No sophomore has won the trophy.

"It puts you in a very, very elite group," Fitzgerald said.
"It's something that can't be taken away from you regardless of
how your career is after college. You know for that one year, you
were the best player in college football."