By Jashvina Shah for Pittsburgh Sports Now
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Duquesne is headed into the season refreshed thanks to what redshirt senior offensive lineman Matt Fitzpatrick called one of the best offseasons of his career as a Duke.
The offseason gave Duquesne time to reset from losing a difficult late-season game and Northeast Conference football title to Central Connecticut. They used it to go over the positives from the season and work on some key areas needed to succeed for the upcoming season, including bonding.
“I feel like we’re more together now,” wide receiver Nehari Crawford said. “It’s not just the skill guys over here and the linemen here and the defensive guys, we’re all one/ We all hang out. We have a bond now and you can use that to say you trust the man next to you every time you’re out there. That helps.”
Fitzpatrick added that there was a lot of competition in the offseason, with every player pushing each other to be stronger. There were also team bonding activities, like D-Day, when the Dukes dressed up in strange clothing and worked through a series of difficult stations in 20-degree weather, also helped.
“I think they understood that every single play of every single game could dictate the outcome and then the success of our season,” head coach Jerry Schmitt said. “They dialed in with preparing in the offseason like it was in season and preparing themselves mentally to go hard every single lift every single conditioning run, every single thing they did.”
Another offseason focus was leadership, which Schmitt noted as a necessary tool to overcome the team’s consistency issues from last season. During his 13 years at Duquesne, Schmitt said he has seen teams with great leadership and teams lacking in leadership, and he worked with the leaders through different offseason activities to prepare them.
“Matt Fitzpatrick and Nehari Crawford are two guys that I’m really proud of because they have matured over their four-year careers here,” Schmitt said. “By example and by the way they work have been great leaders. I’d like them both the be a little more vocal but that’s not always the end all to leadership,”
Fitzpatrick and Crawford are two of the team’s 21 seniors, although Schmitt noted leadership comes from other class members as well.
“It’s interesting to see who’s going to turn out and develop to be vocal leaders and then our everyday work leaders,” Schmitt said. “It’s hard as coaches to know who are the leaders in the locker room because we’re not always in there. I like where we’re at. I like those two gentlemen and a number of our other seniors.”