Fitzroy ready to shoulder load for Apollo-Ridge
Kyle Fitzroy's Apollo-Ridge career could go nowhere but up after his first pass attempt. That pass, in a nonconference game against Keystone Oaks in 2015, got intercepted, confirming he wasn't in Kansas — or junior varsity — anymore.
But although that first throw ended in disaster, Fitzroy's career has unfolded quite nicely. With his passing complementing the exploits of star running back Duane Brown, Apollo-Ridge reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons. And with Brown now at IUP after the completion of his record-setting career with the Vikings, Fitzroy figures to shoulder the load for Apollo-Ridge this fall.
“It's a lot different than last year because we had 13 seniors that would help lead the team,” Fitzroy said. “Now we have five, and with me being the quarterback, I have to lead the entire offense this year and the entire team, really, in the locker room and keep them going in the right direction. If things start to go south, we just have to keep our heads up. I can't put my head down because then they'll all follow it.”
As the quarterback, Fitzroy already held a position of leadership in Apollo-Ridge's locker room. But as one of only a handful of seniors, that role became magnified. The Vikings will rely on a heavy dose of freshmen and sophomores this season, and Fitzroy is learning the importance of patience.
“You can't get as frustrated with them when they make the simple mistakes,” he said. “You have to stay calm with them and help them along instead of just getting irritated right away. You have to stay calm and teach them.
“I think I've let it slide a little bit. Last year I'd get irritated because I knew what they had in them. This year, I have a lot of confidence in all of them, and I know what they can do, but I still also get that they'll make mistakes. I just tell them, ‘Come on. Next play. You've got it. Just keep going.' ”
Perhaps it helps remembering his own past.
Fitzroy took over as starting quarterback as a sophomore, on a team that had conference and WPIAL title aspirations. The biggest breakthrough in an up-and-down season came in Apollo-Ridge's playoff opener against Beaver Falls, when he nearly led the Vikings to an upset over the favored Tigers by rushing for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes. Beaver Falls rallied for a last-second win, but Fitzroy's touchdown followed a season-long mantra from his coaches: “If you see green, just take it and run.”
Last season, when Brown missed the early portion of the season after a knee injury, Fitzroy and running back Brett Coleman anchored the offense. The Vikings really took off after Brown's midseason return, finishing second in the Allegheny Conference before falling in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs to Keystone Oaks. Fitzroy passed for 1,885 yards and 23 touchdowns, with just four interceptions, and rushed for 398 yards and eight scores.
“This offseason's been huge,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “He hasn't made many mistakes at all. He's been really solid not turning the ball over and taking care of the ball.”
In addition to leading the young players, Fitzroy needs to develop quick chemistry on the field. In some cases, relationships can help. His younger brother, Klay, is a freshman wide receiver, and he knows many of the others in the class.
“There's times we leave the huddle and all five guys ask him what they have, and he has to name every play for them. He has to understand where they're at, and he has to give them their routes,” Skiba said. “It's funny to watch sometimes.”
The 6-foot-5 Fitzroy, who is drawing interest from Division II schools, potentially as a tight end prospect, also will play defense for this fall for the first time. Skiba said Fitzroy shows the ability to play physically on that side of the ball.
Ultimately, however, how Fitzroy plays on offense will determine Apollo-Ridge's fate.
“I'm excited to be the leader on the team this year and really help kids along and show them how it's supposed to be done on the field,” he said. “(Last year) I was happy with the overall season performance, (but) just with some single-game performances like Keystone Oaks, that really wasn't my best performance in both the playoffs and regular season. I want to be able to play (well) all season.”