Jimmy Fitzgerald had a visit planned to the Illinois football offices for Wednesday afternoon.
It was there, tucked within the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium, that Fitzgerald was optimistic a scholarship offer would come his way.
But the Champaign Centennial (Ill.) High School quarterback didn’t have to wait until a visit to the second-floor coaches’ offices.
He received on Tuesday night from head coach Tim Beckman after offensive coordinator Bill Cubit came out to Centennial on Monday to watch Fitzgerald work out.
“I called Coach Beckman, and he said ‘We’re going to give you the offer. We really like what we see,’” Fitzgerald said. “They just said that they needed a guy to come in and change the program around. He said he thinks I have the potential to be that guy. They’re not offering me because I’m close by and I’m the hometown kid. That was nice to hear.”
Fitzgerald was ecstatic about the offer late Tuesday night, but also a bit still in awe.
“It’s kind of surreal getting the first Division I offer,” he said. “It’s what I’ve dreamed about, especially because I’ve lived two miles away from the stadium my whole life.”
Tuesday’s offer was Fitzgerald’s first one. From any college team at any level.
Fitzgerald has Illinois, Duke, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Northwestern and Stanford interested in him, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Class of 2015 quarterback prospect said, with Stanford expected to watch him throw on May 14.
He said he plans to camp at all of the above-mentioned schools in June.
Fitzgerald — who transferred to Centennial after spending his freshman year at St. Thomas More, a private Catholic school in Champaign — said he is good friends with former STM standout wide receiver Kevin Carroll, who will walk on to the Illinois football team this fall, and sophomore wide receiver Kameron Fry from Urbana (Ill.) High School.
“I’ve got some peers on the Illinois team that I look up to,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re definitely my idols, and I’ve been a life-long fan of Illinois.”
Centennial coach Mike McDonnell said he wasn’t surprised his quarterback, who threw for 1,300 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 96 of 195 passes last fall for a 2-7 Chargers team, has generated this attention from college teams.
“He’s done so much and gotten so much play from different schools from all over the country that I knew somebody was going to offer him,” McDonnell said. “It’s nice to see Illinois was that first one. He’s going to have more coming.”
McDonnell said Fitzgerald has a 4.0 GPA to along with good size and strength needed from a quarterback.
“He throws a nice ball that’s accurate and easy to catch,” McDonnell said. “He’s got the arm to drill it if he has to, which is why he’s considered as good as he is. The (college) coaches want to see in the summer if he can throw the deep ball, the soft one and the bullet. He’s the whole package.”
Fitzgerald only had a few months with his new team last summer after he switched schools.
McDonnell said he didn’t know what to expect and didn’t have any grandiose ideas he would get a player who has several Football Bowl Subdivision teams interested in him.
“A lot of people who had seen him around town said you’re going to like him,” McDonnell said. “I said, ‘I hope so.’ If you watch the games and watched him progress through the games, he was picking up more and more of the load. He matured very quickly last year.”
McDonnell said Illinois coaches have been in contact with Fitzgerald since the end of Centennial’s season last fall.
A season that didn’t go so well, with the Chargers finishing 2-7 and missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
“I told Jimmy before last year we can’t do anything recruiting-wise until we have film,” McDonnell said. “This was his chance to get on film and let people see what he can do. It’s really nice that he’s getting the publicity because people are going to pay attention to him now. In most cases it’s going to be something where other guys rise up, too.”
And McDonnell is thankful he’ll have a better idea of what to expect from his quarterback heading into the 2013 season.
“You watch him work with teammates and the leadership comes out,” McDonnell said. “Now we can plan the whole offseason on putting the game more in his hands for next year.”