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Pitt's campaign for Fitzgerald to heat up

| Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2003

Pitt's public relations machine is ready to swing into high gear for Larry Fitzgerald's run at the Heisman Trophy.

"We are aggressively pursuing as many national, influential media outlets as we can," said media relations director E.J. Borghetti, who plans to delegate some of his usual responsibilities in the next month so that he can concentrate on the Fitzgerald campaign.

Fitzgerald, a sophomore wide receiver, can break the NCAA Division I-A record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch Saturday at Boston College.

He has caught a touchdown pass in 13 consecutive games, which ties the record set last year by Charles Rogers at Michigan State.

Leading the country in several receiving categories, including total yards, Fitzgerald is considered one of the front-runners for college football's most prestigious individual award, to be presented Dec. 13 at the Yale Club in New York City.

That means November is a critical month -- election month, if you will. And just as in the real world, voter turnout is an issue.

Last year, the turnout was 88 percent. Of the 921 ballots sent out, 811 were received -- including 67 percent of the votes after Dec. 7.

A year earlier, there was just a 63.3-percent voter turnout (924 ballots, 585 responses).

On average, there is about an 80-percent return rate.

Votes are cast primarily by selected media and former Heisman recipients, one of whom is former Pitt star Tony Dorsett, who has indicated that Fitzgerald is high on his list. The two spoke, for the first time, by phone Tuesday morning.

Voters list their choices on ballots, and players are awarded three points for first place, two for second place and one for third place.

Borghetti is doing all he can to reach as many voters as possible.

There won't be any off-the-wall publicity stunts -- like when Brigham Young University sent out a mass mailing of neckties to promote quarterback Ty Detmer -- but next week, Borghetti will send out a mass mailing of Fitzgerald highlights on a CD-Rom.

In a move that ensures that video highlights are available from this Saturday's game, which is not televised, Pitt arranged for a live video broadcast of the game to be shown at the Petersen Events Center. The Pitt athletic department is producing the broadcast.

In the meantime, Borghetti is sending out a bi-weekly e-mail on Fitzgerald's accomplishments to about 700 media outlets.

"Those are creating opportunities," Borghetti said, citing an upcoming Fitzgerald feature in ESPN The Magazine. "I wish they gave us the names of all 800-plus Heisman voters, but they don't do that. They only give you state-wide reps and the regional reps."

Every Tuesday morning, Fitzgerald visits Borghetti's office at the Panthers' practice complex, and Fitzgerald does an hour's worth of interviews with national media outlets.

Last night, Fitzgerald appeared on the "Best Damn Sports Show Period!" Borghetti said other national television appearances are in the works.

The latest ESPN Heisman poll, conducted among 11 ESPN analysts, has Fitzgerald second to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White and says, "Right now, it looks like it's Jason White's Heisman Trophy to lose."

White got eight first-place votes and a total of 52 points. Fitztgerald got two first-place votes and 33 points.

American Suzuki Motor Corporation, the presenting sponsor of the Heisman Trophy, also has a vote for the Heisman.

The company has set up a Web site called www.voteheisman.com, in which Fitzgerald is ninth, with 13,823 votes for 3.9 percent of the vote. White is first with 47,238 votes and 13.4 percent, slightly ahead of Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning in total votes.

As for Fitzgerald, he continues to insist he isn't even thinking about the Heisman race. He just wants to win games, and, truthfully, winning games will have a lot to do with where he finishes.

In the meantime, he is enjoying the spotlight.

"I welcome it with open arms," he said. "It's great exposure for my teammates and for this program and this university. It's always good."

Notes: Fitzgerald was asked on the "Best Damn Sports Show Period!" if he'd be interested in turning pro after the season, depending on what happens with Maurice Clarett's case. Fitzgerald said no. "I think I'm going to stick around here for a while." ... The Pitt-Boston College game at 1 p.m. Saturday will be shown live on PantherVision at the Petersen Events Center. Admission is $5, and Pitt students who pick up a ticket by 5 p.m. Friday will be admitted free. Fox Sports Net's Rob King is expected to do play-by-play. Fans also can listen to the game at www.pittsburghpanthers.com < http://www.pittsburghpanthers.com/ > . ... Injured tailback Brandon Miree has not yet returned to practice.

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