When T.J. Fitzpatrick completes this season as a Boston College linebacker, he will visit Villanova and pick up his diploma. Closer at hand, about 40 friends and relatives of the St. John's High graduate will assemble in Annapolis Saturday for a tailgate party before BC plays Navy, renewing a ritual observed in College Park in 1979 and 1980, when Villanova visited Maryland.
Fitzpatrick's football career has been different from most. For one thing, he played only one year at St. John's, as a tight end and defensive tackle. His weight forced him out of youth football at the sixth-grade level and he did not try again until he was a high school junior, when an injury ended his season.
Fitzpatrick persevered, however, to become a standout at Villanova. Ironically, he twice earned plaques for his spirited play against Boston College. Then, as a junior in 1980, he received the game ball when Villanova upset BC.
"I got the game ball for a game I didn't play," Fitzpatrick said. "I hurt my knee the week before and they wanted to cheer me up, I guess. At least, I got hurt in the third game, just before the limit, and I was able to redshirt."
Nevertheless, it was Fitzpatrick's last game for Villanova. The school dropped football the following spring, during the Easter break from classes.
"The first day back, a Monday, about four or five schools showed up to talk to us about transferring," Fitzpatrick recalled. "Then on Tuesday there were about 60 guys wearing different name tags, and I talked with people from Northern Arizona and Penn State and Pitt and BC. I might conceivably have gone to Pitt and played for a national champion, but the Pitt people just talked football, whereas BC talked about education, too.
"I was able to work out a program where Villanova accepted courses I took at BC toward my degree," he said.
"That way, I completed my bachelor's requirements last spring and was able to go right into grad school this fall. But I haven't been able to pick up my diploma yet, because obviously I couldn't play for BC if I'd graduated from Villanova."
So far this fall, Fitzpatrick has been pleased with every aspect of life in Chestnut Hill--wife Suzanne, whom he married in July; graduate school, where he is seeking a master's degree in business administration; and football, where last week he made 13 tackles as BC tied heavily favored Clemson.
Fitzpatrick sees no letdown for BC Saturday, pointing out that BC has lost three in a row to the Midshipmen.
"We have a lot of respect for Navy and we're looking at this as a big game," said Fitzpatrick. "Not one senior, including me, has ever beaten Navy."
Another area standout for BC is senior wide receiver Jon Schoen, a Good Counsel product who already has caught three touchdown passes . . . BC's sophomore quarterback, Doug Flutie, has thrown for 598 yards in two games. Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said, "If you're not standing on the other sideline, he's fun to watch" . . . Navy will be without first-string fullback Andy Skehan, who suffered a slight perforation of the lung in the loss at Arkansas. Junior Jim Scannell will start at fullback Saturday.