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“IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT, THE MIND CAN ACHIEVE IT.”

-RONNIE LOTT

Alabama’s Minkah Fitpatrick Embraces Early Struggles Before Becoming a Dominating Force on the Field

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The world wasn’t complicated enough for Minkah Fitzpatrick: high school, grades, adolescence, a financial crunch at home.

It got more complicated for an emerging five-star prospect. They would periodically summon him to the St. Peter’s Prep office in the middle of the school day — basically exposing his plight to God, country and his classmates.

He — rather, his family — owed for tuition.

“I’d be kicked out of school every other month because I couldn’t pay,” said Fitzpatrick, now Alabama’s junior All-American defensive back.

Never mind the embarrassment. His family had been devastated by Hurricane Irene in 2011. Their Old Bridge, New Jersey, home flooded. With no insurance, there was no choice but to rebuild.

It wasn’t easy.

Fitzpatrick’s mother was working. So was a sister. His father, Minkah Fitzpatrick Sr., was working three jobs.

“[School officials] would come to my class and say, ‘You didn’t pay this week, you can’t go to class,'” Minkah Jr. recalled. “I felt kind of selfish.”

Selfish? Fitzpatrick is an excellent student and person. After a 13-hour day at school, after having his coach pick up and drive an hour each way to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, he would come home to help his dad, a diesel mechanic.

“I told my parents, ‘I’ll stop playing football and just work and help you guys out,'” Fitzpatrick said. “They wouldn’t let me do that.”

Six years later, he is arguably the best defensive back in the country and one of the best in Alabama’s glorious history.

Four games into his junior season, Fitzpatrick already owns the school record for pick sixes (four). With eight career interceptions, .500 isn’t a bad batting average for the end zone. His part of the turf might as well be a sinkhole for opponents.

In the Alabama scheme, there are six secondary positions. Fitzpatrick has played them all with skill. Nick Saban, an old defensive back, said Fitzpatrick “does it as well as anybody I ever coached.”

The Tide coach tosses around those kinds of compliments like they’re manhole covers.

“It’s fun, but it’s hard at the same time because he watches us all the time,” Fitzpatrick said. “He might not watch the quarterback every play, he might not watch the linemen every play, but he’s watching us every single play, every single rep.”

One-third of the way through the season, not much is certain nationally, though it’s basically a sure thing that Fitzpatrick is headed for a second straight All-American season and perhaps a Thorpe Award.

The last Tide player to be named the nation’s best best defensive back was Antonio Langham in 1993. But Langham didn’t play six positions.

“It shows my versatility,” Fitzpatrick said with a rare show of hubris. “My coaches worked hard with me. It’s not meant for everybody, but if everybody put in a certain amount of work, they could do it.

“I don’t want to say I’m proud of myself, but I’ve handled the situation very well.”

That’s what everyone says about every situation in which Fitzpatrick is involved. St. Peter’s coach Rich Hansen, on the job for 27 years, says Fitzpatrick is one of the best players he has coached.

“He’s a one-man personnel package,” Hansen said. “I’ve only said that about one other player I’ve coached. He’s got safety size and corner skills. He could probably lead the team in receiving if he wanted to.”
Read the full story: Minkah Fitzpatrick had to rebuild his home well before he mended Alabama’s defense

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