PHILADELPHIA — Jalen Fitzpatrick was driving back to his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from an official visit to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, when his phone rang. It was Matt Rhule.
It was nearing the end of January 2011 and Fitzpatrick was set to spend the next four years most likely playing defensive back — a position he hadn’t played in high school — at then-Division I-AA Old Dominion.
Then a Temple assistant under newly hired head coach Steve Addazio, Rhule initiated contact with Fitzpatrick and eventually provided him with his only Division I-A scholarship offer. Fitzpatrick (5-foot-10) decommitted from ODU and committed to Temple a few weeks later.
Not quite four years since that phone call, everything has come full circle for Fitzpatrick.
Temple | WR | Sr.
A dual-threat quarterback at Harrisburg High, Fitzpatrick was named a 2010 Class AAAA first-team all-state quarterback. But his stature and skill set led to being recruited as an athlete rather than a quarterback. In his freshman year at Temple, Fitzpatrick played wide receiver and a little bit of running back — each for the first time — helping the Owls to a 9-4 record and a New Mexico Bowl win. In his sophomore year, Fitzpatrick led Addazio’s run-heavy offense with 30 catches and 363 yards.
Last year, a miserable 2-10 campaign for Temple in Rhule’s first year as head coach, Fitzpatrick, a senior, became more of a threat in the passing attack, with 38 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns.
“Almost every year something has been brand new to me,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s probably made me a better football player in the long run. It’s been good to learn a lot of different things from good coaches.”
And in this year’s role as the No. 1 playmaker in Rhule’s offense, Fitzpatrick is already experiencing success. Through three games, Fitzpatrick has team high’s in catches (13) and yards (180). He’s scored a touchdown in all three games.
In Saturday’s 59-0 throttling of Delaware State, Fitzpatrick extended the Temple lead to 35-0 with a 31-yard catch and run in the second quarter.
“I’m not sure if my role has changed per se,” Fitzpatrick said. “Maybe I’m just getting more opportunities and taking advantage of them better. That’s just what I focused on in the offseason and it’s paying off so far.”
A tradition Rhule started when he took over last season is that single-digit jerseys be awarded to the “toughest” players on the team. Before the start of last season, Fitzpatrick was awarded a single-digit jersey that prompted a switch from No. 15 to No. 5.
The work didn’t stop there, though.
“I think he made a huge step in the offseason,” offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. “He’s always been committed to our team and our offense, but I challenged him a lot last year and in the offseason about being tough. Be a tough guy, be an explosive player. He came back into summer and into camp and just has been a totally different person.”
With a 2-1 record heading into American Athletic Conference play at Connecticut on Saturday, Temple will continue to rely on Fitzpatrick and his chemistry with sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker.
“Jalen’s proven, over a long period of time since we’ve been here, that he can make a play,” Satterfield said. “In order to win games against Connecticut and teams in our conference, we’ve got to find ways to get him into different positions on the field, different matchups and let him make plays. Every time he touches it, he makes plays.”
Rhule said after Saturday’s game that the offense still had a lot of work to do in terms of playmaking and everyone being on the same page. One of the things he’s been focusing on is establishing a no-huddle, up-tempo offense. The results have been beneficial for Fitzpatrick.
“That’s why Jalen’s having such a good year,” Rhule said. “He catches it and gets 6-7-8-9 yards a clip. Jalen’s really been our playmaker right now on offense.”
If not for Rhule’s phone call, Fitzpatrick might be making plays for Old Dominion instead.
“He was the first voice I ever heard at Temple,” Fitzpatrick said with a smile. “We talk all of the time.”
With his 81st career catch today, Jalen Fitzpatrick passed Michael Campbell and tied Joe Jones for No. 14 on Temple’s all-time list.
— Kyle Gauss (@kylegauss) September 20, 2014