All too often, we only hear about the ugly side of athletes as it relates to their off-the-field activities. Whether it’s a night out on the town ending poorly or the latest domestic abuse accusations, it’s like a never-ending stream of disappointment. Well, as luck would have it, there are some elite athletes out there who happen to be awesome people as well.
Take Minkah Fitzpatrick for example.
The Alabama safety and top 2018 NFL Draft prospect is widely known for his abilities on the football field. It often goes unnoticed, though, how much of an impact he makes away from the gridiron. I think it’s time we change that.
First, let’s start with his head football coach, Nick Saban. Now obviously most coaches aren’t going to blatantly come out and say it when they have a rotten apple among the bunch. They may divulge certain information to scouts, or share thoughts on a specific situation if the media gets a hold of a story. In the grand scheme of things, they tend to take a generally positive tone.
Still, here’s what Saban had to say about Fitzpatrick, courtesy of Touchdown Alabama:
I loved Minkah when we recruited him… He has a great family and a great personality. I can still remember having dinner in his home when we went on home visits. He’s interested in a lot of things… He’s just an easy guy to like. You like being around him. You certainly like the way he plays. You like when he tries to embrace things that you want him to do. He’s always been 100 percent committed to the team and the process.”
Again, coaches typically take the positive approach when talking about their players. Regardless, it does set the stage for more on Fitzpatricks’ gleaming character.
On Tuesday, the Crimson Tide’s star safety was named to the 2017 SEC Community Service Team for his efforts away from the football field. The team is made up of 14 players, one from every school in the Southeastern Conference. So that means Fitzpatrick was chosen out of all of Alabama’s 100+ football players for the prestigious designation.
Here’s this on Fitzpatrick, from the official SEC Community Service Team announcement:
Has been a team leader in the community and on campus … Has given his time to several groups in his two years with the football program, including the YMCA, TAP, Inc. and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, mentoring youth in the Tuscaloosa area … Active in local schools reading to children … Most recently, spent his spring break with a group of Alabama student-athletes as part of an FCA mission trip that did relief work in Costa Rica.
Seriously. That’s so refreshing to hear about a college football star — let alone a potential Top 10 pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Let’s just add some context to this whole SEC Community Service Team situation. None of the other players mentioned (Frank Ragnow, Daniel Carlson, Johnny Townsend, Aaron Davis, Jacob Hyde, John David Moore, Javon Patterson, Gabe Myles, Anthony Hines, Spencer Eason-Riddle, Kyle Phillips, Koda Martin, Tommy Openshaw) are expected to be selected in the first round of April’s draft. It’s a testament to Fitzpatrick’s dedication to his craft, his team and his community.
On top of that, Fitzpatrick was recently named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy. The hardware is handed out annually to an outstanding college football player who displays the qualities embodied by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott: Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.
Some of college football’s top defenders have also won the award, including NFL stars such as Luke Kuechly and J.J. Watt. Although it’s unclear at this point what Fitzpatrick’s odds are of beating out Josey Jewell of Iowa, Micah Kaser of Virginia and Harrison Phillips of Stanford for the honor, it’s quite the accomplish to land among the finalists for the award.
The award is about more than just character and off-the-field contributions, though. As I’ve been alluding to this entire time, Fitzpatrick also happens to be an excellent football player who routinely wreaks havoc on Saturdays.
Just look at his stats from this past season. In 11 games, Fitzpatrick racked up 52 total tackles, seven defended passes, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked field goal. On top of that, he’s been a tremendous presence in the Alabama secondary whose versatility (he also plays slot cornerback) has allowed him to make an unmistakable impact. That impact has played a significant role in the Crimson Tide earning a 10-1 record in 2017 and potential berth in the College Football Playoff.
Here’s some more insight, courtesy of Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller:
Minkah Fitzpatrick has a chance to be a top-five player. His impact on the defense can’t be judged in numbers. He’s smart, athletic, tough and, from what teammates and coaches tell me, a great leader. He might compete with Jamal Adams for my all-time safety draft crush spot next to Earl Thomas.
Put simply, this kid is the complete package. Fitzpatrick is an elite athlete and NFL prospect, a class act away from football, and a leader in the locker room. Based on what we know, any team would be lucky to have him next April. Especially as the league starts to become more wary of prospects with red flags and the risks they carry, players like Fitzpatrick are a breath of fresh air.
If you’re a fan of the NFL Draft and need a player to root for, look no further than the Crimson Tide’s dynamic young safety. Not only is he a legitimate playmaker on the field, but Fitzpatrick keeps finding ways to win off of it as well.