STARKVILLE — Nick Fitzgerald was born to an American man and an Icelandic woman living in Germany.
Derrick Fitzgerald was working in the United States Air Force at Bitburg Air Base when his wife, Annetta, gave birth to another son, the youngest of three.
Three years later, the Fitzgeralds relocated to Panama City, Florida, in the United States. The family ultimately settled in Georgia, but only after another move to Peoria, Illinois. If the Fitzgeralds hadn’t detoured to Illinois, Nick might never have been introduced to the first sport he loved: hockey.
Their return to the United States a few years later was to Panama City, Florida, in the Southeast where the family would ultimately settle. Before settling in Georgia, there was one more move away to be made: Peoria, Illinois.
If the Fitzgeralds had not detoured there, Nick may have never been introduced to the first sport he loved: hockey.
Nick Fitzgerald is now the starting quarterback for the No. 18 Mississippi State football team, currently in Tampa preparing for the 11 a.m. Wednesday (ESPN2) Outback Bowl against Iowa. One of the fun functions the Outback Bowl has for the teams is an opportunity to go a Tampa Bay Lightning game today, and Fitzgerald will be there. His love of hockey has stood the test of time, even in all the years he could not play it.
“It was something if I stayed up there in the north, I definitely would have kept playing,” Nick Fitzgerald said. “At 6’5″, big guy, I probably would’ve done pretty well.”
Growing up, Nick Fitzgerald did well at most things. Annetta Fitzgerald got Nick involved in athletics partially out of convenience — “He had way too much energy.” — and it helped he proved a natural. When she signed Nick up for Peoria’s youth hockey scene when he was 5 years old, he was already in gymnastics and karate.
“He was great (at gymnastics). He could do backflips with the best of them,” Annetta Fitzgerald said. “Even in the first couple of years of football he would do backflips in the end zone.”
Still, the Fitzgeralds wanted to introduce Nick to something that would help with his coordination.
“We already knew he was going to be tall. He needed the coordination so he would learn how to fall,” Annetta Fitzgerald said. “It was great. He learned how to ice skate while learning how to play hockey, so it was a lot of fun.”
Fitzgerald’s athleticism has helped him become the Southeastern Conference’s leader in career rushing yards for a quarterback (3,504). He also is MSU’s career leader in rushing touchdowns (45) and 100-yard rushing games (20), among others.
Fitzgerald is one of three Bulldogs to throw for 6,000 yards in his career (6,055). He could finish second in school history in career passing yards with 282 yards in the Outback Bowl. Even if he falls short of that mark, he already is third in school history.
It’s a level of athleticism that might have translated well to hockey if he had the chance.
Nick Fitzgerald knows his hockey playing experience wasn’t going to guarantee future success in the sport — he played two seasons at an age where, as he put it, “No one’s out there on breakaways triple deking people.”
Still, he grew infatuated with the sport and the position he didn’t play.
“I wanted to be a goalie so bad. I thought it was cool,” Nick Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know why, maybe all the pads and stuff.”
Nick Fitzgerald admitted he missed the snow — and the snowboarding it facilitated — and hockey when the family moved from Peoria to Richmond Hill, Georgia, where he stayed through high school. Flag football was all Fitzgerald did in Peoria, and when tackle football was introduced in Richmond Hill “it consumed my life at that point.”
But Fitzgerald remains a fan of hockey, and he can still ice skate. He said the civic center in Savannah, Georgia, was transformed into an ice rink once a year and he always went.
He has fond memories of the 2016 MSU team going to a Lightning game prior to the St. Petersburg Bowl, and he can’t wait to do it again before the Outback Bowl.
“It was a lot of fun. I had a good time, and I’m still a hockey fan,” Nick Fitzgerald said. “I still love to watch the sport.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson