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Former Granger excels as freshman

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Few defensive players in the state were more productive than LaGrange High’s Dexter Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick was an all-state linebacker at LaGrange, and he had nearly 200 tackles during a memorable senior season in 2018.

As dynamic a player as Fitzpatrick was on the high-school level, there is never a guarantee that the success will translate to the college game.

While some players struggle with that transition, it’s been a smooth one for Fitzpatrick, who had a phenomenal freshman season for Mars Hill University, an NCAA Division II school in North Carolina.

Fitzpatrick led Mars Hill with 79 tackles, and he was named the South Atlantic Conference’s defensive freshman of the year.

Fitzpatrick was, in fact, selected by one national organization as one of the top NCAA Division II linebackers in the country, and as satisfying as that is, the former Granger great isn’t satisfied.

“I came in after my freshman year and got ranked the number 11 linebacker in the country,” Fitzpatrick said. “My goal is to be number one, and I’ll continue to work.”

While Fitzpatrick started playing right away at Mars Hill and had seven tackles in his first game, he wasn’t starting. That was frustrating, but Fitzpatrick stayed focused and let his faith be his guide.

“There was a point and time where I got down because I felt like I was working so hard, and nothing was changing. I was still a backup,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel like that was God testing me, and then when my number was called, I was ready. My number was finally called, and I just took advantage of it. I put my trust in God, and really just let God use me. I know how powerful God is.”

Even though he wasn’t starting early on, Fitzpatrick was making plays.

Through his first five games Fitzpatrick had 30 tackles, and he had his first sack in a 20-19 win over Newberry.

Fitzpatrick reached double digits in tackles for the first time against UNC Pembroke on Oct. 12 when he had 10 tackles, including two for loss.

Then came a memorable performance in a 35-28 victory over Limestone on Oct. 19 when Fitzpatrick had 16 tackles.

When the season was done, Fitzpatrick’s total of 79 tackles was 10 more than anyone else on the team.

“First of all, I want to thank God,” Fitzpatrick said. “Without him, I would never have done any of that.”

If the 2020 season starts on time, Fitzpatrick will begin his sophomore year on Sept. 5 at East Tennessee State.

At the moment, Fitzpatrick and his teammates are all back home since the campus is shut down because of the coronavirus threat.

Fitzpatrick is working out to stay fit, and he’s able to meet with his coaches and teammates digitally.

“We’ll usually have like a team Face Time meeting,” Fitzpatrick said. “And our head coach or our position coach will be on there. We try to meet each day, or every other day.”

Looking way down the road Fitzpatrick would love to play football professionally, but he knows it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand.

“I feel like if I continue to work hard, and continue to let God use me, anything is possible, but I’m just trying to take it year by year,” Fitzpatrick said.

While focused on his own work, Fitzpatrick is also keeping an eye on what his sister Destiny Fitzpatrick has been doing.

Destiny is a freshman softball player at Fort Valley State University, and she hit .333 in a season that ended after 15 games.

“I’m beyond proud of her,” Fitzpatrick said. “There was a point and time where she didn’t think she’d be able to play college ball. It’s beautiful to see.”