The first lesson from The Larry Fitzgerald School of Being a Pro is simple: Show up. When you’re required to show up, show up. When you’re not required to show up, show up anyway. Put the extra work in. Always be working, always be getting better. Every rep counts.
I learned that before I even caught a ball in a Cardinals uniform.
Every summer, Larry holds a camp for NFL players up in Minnesota, where we’re both from. He’s been doing it forever, and players from around the league — not just from the Cardinals — go up there to get extra work in and learn from each other.
When the Cardinals drafted me in 2012, Larry was a big supporter of mine. He really wanted the Cardinals to take me, and when they did, I think he was excited to have a new young receiver to mentor and help our offense stretch the field. If you know anything about Larry, it’s that he’s always working — always trying to get better and make other guys better. So he loves working with the younger guys and helping us get the most out of our abilities.
That June, just a few weeks after I got drafted, Larry held his annual camp at the University of Minnesota. I didn’t attend the first few workouts, and Larry called me out, saying I “don’t want it”:
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) July 9, 2012
I won’t make excuses (Larry doesn’t allow that anyway). I wasn’t there, and Larry obviously wanted to let me know he noticed. The very next day, I was there. I worked my tail off — that day and the rest of the camp. And Larry took notice of that, too:
That was my first lesson in being a true pro. There are always guys out there working, and you always need to be working harder than the next guy. That should go without saying, but even when you’re playing at the college level, you don’t get to see what these guys are doing all week and in the offseason to get prepared. You just see them on Sundays and know that’s where you want to be.
But when Larry’s camp was over and we finally got to Arizona for Cardinals camp, that’s when school really started.
I couldn’t have landed in a better spot than Arizona. A lot of rookies who get drafted in the first round have a lot of pressure put on them. They’re drafted to be the No. 1 at their position. Not only did I not have that kind of pressure coming out of Notre Dame, I’ve had the privilege of playing with a future Hall of Famer and learning from him.
I’ve never seen anybody pay as much attention to detail as Larry. He nitpicks about everything. There are little things he’s shown me when running routes to set a defender up and get him to turn his hips — head movements, shoulder fakes, footwork — and if I do it wrong in practice, he’ll let me know.
I knew my first few years in the league would be a learning experience — that there was a lot about playing the wide receiver position I didn’t know. There are some secrets you can’t know unless you’ve been out there doing it for a long time like Larry has.
For instance, Larry taught me how to use my hands at the top of the route to get separation from the DB. There are certain techniques you can use to get your hands on the defender and create that extra little bit of separation that makes all the difference, and do it without getting flagged for pass interference. (I won’t give away those secrets here … just in case we got refs reading this.)
Like I said, I’m lucky I landed where I did on draft day. Carson Palmer is always a big help, coaching us up on getting out of our breaks and making sure we’re in the right position when the ball comes. Coach Arians is always on us about doing the little things right, and he holds us accountable. I think what we’ve got in Arizona in terms of guys supporting each other and making everyone around them better is about as good as it gets. It’s a brotherhood.
For me, that all starts with Larry Fitzgerald.
After you make it to the league, it’s usually pretty hard to pay back the veterans who help you along the way. That payback usually comes in the form of passing knowledge down to the next wave of guys coming in, the same way guys before you did. You give back to the game, not the guys who shared that knowledge. But the best part about my situation is that by putting in the work and doing my job — and by using all the tools and knowledge Larry has given me — I’m able to pay him back by making defenses pay attention to the other side of the field. That way, he can go out there and make plays like the future Hall of Famer he is, because they can’t double him or send help if I’m over on the other side of the field doin’ work.
And when I am, I think Larry is just as excited when I get mine as he is when he gets his. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Honestly, I could sit here all day and talk about how beneficial it’s been to play and learn under a guy like Larry. And at the end of the day, I hope my development and success can benefit him by giving him the extra space he needs to make the big plays he’s become known for making, and eventually help get him that Super Bowl ring he’s been chasing since he’s been in the league.
For a guy who was in my corner before I even became an Arizona Cardinal, that’d be the ultimate reward.