BILLS CAMP: New backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick started 12 games last season with the Bengals.
One look at Ryan Fitzpatrick’s biography, and you wouldn’t think it was that of a veteran NFL quarterback.
He graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics. Growing up, Fitzpatrick was always near the top of his class, graduating in the top 1 percent at Highland High School in Arizona.
Instead of taking on the corporate world, Fitzpatrick always dreamed of challenging linebackers and defensive ends as an NFL quarterback. Thanks to a lot of hard work, and plenty of intelligence, the 26-year-old native of Gilbert, Ariz., has achieved his dreams.
After two years with the St. Louis Rams and two with the Cincinnati Bengals, Fitzpatrick is slated to be the Buffalo Bills’ backup signal-caller this season. The five-year veteran was signed as an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27.
“It was always a dream of mine to play pro football,” Fitzpatrick said after a practice at St. John Fisher during Bills training camp. “If you asked me if I was going to play in the NFL I would have laughed at you.”
Fitzpatrick has been in the league the longest among Bills quarterbacks. In 19 career games — including 12 starts last year for the Bengals — he has thrown for 2,682 yards and 12 touchdowns.
That Harvard pedigree also allowed him to fit in right away with his fellow quarterbacks, particularly starter Trent Edwards who also went to one of the top schools in the country, Stanford.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Bills quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said about Fitzpatrick. “He had some bumps at first, but I think he is getting a better grip of the offense and it’s showing on the field.”
Fitzpatrick will be ready to relieve Edwards if called upon. He enjoyed his greatest success in the second half of 2008, finishing 4-3-1 over the final eight games. He also achieved plenty of career milestones including earning his first win as a starter when he led the Bengals past Jacksonville on Nov. 2. He set a career-high for passing yards (1,905) and touchdowns (eight) last year, though he also threw nine interceptions.
“It was a real rough season, but I was proud of the way we finished,” said Fitzpatrick, who was pressed into duty because of injuries to Bengals regular QB Carson Palmer. “I learned a lot last season. You can’t really get to a point in your progression until you get on the field. I think that was key for me.”
Fitzpatrick was selected by St. Louis in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He was acquired by Cincinnati through a trade in 2007.
He made an immediate impact in his first NFL game, leading the Rams to a 33-27 victory over Houston on Nov. 27, 2005. Fitzpatrick finished 19-of-30 passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
“Ryan is a great guy,” said Bills third-string QB Gibran Hamdan. “He understands the game, and he is going to help all of us as we move towards the season.”
Fitzpatrick came to the NFL after a memorable run at Harvard. He finished his career with the Crimson second in school history in completions (384), TD passes (39), passing yards (5,234) and completion percentage (59.9).
He also did plenty of winning in his time with Harvard, including leading the Crimson to a 10-0 season in 2004, the school’s best season since 1901.
Fitzpatrick chose Harvard after being largely ignored by big-time Division I schools. He earned second-team Class 5A all-state honors as a high school senior, setting 12 Highland High School records.
“I loved it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Fitzpatrick said about playing with the Crimson. “The people I met with and I played with, they were amazing.”
Fitzpatrick’s greatest achievement at Harvard wasn’t on the field, it was meeting his wife, Liza. The couple has two sons Brady, 2, and Tate, 7 months.
Liza and the boys are still in Arizona, but Ryan receives text messages from the family and is anxiously awaiting to be reunited with them.
“Fatherhood has been the best thing in the world,” he said. “This training camp is going to be different because I will not get to see them as much. I can’t wait to see them again.”
Bryan Sullivan is covering training camp for Messenger Post Media.