Miami Dolphins rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick ready to immediately make impact
Fourteen-year-old kids are into girls and sports and friends and video games.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was into motor oil and air filters and spark plugs and very late nights.
After Hurricane Irene blew away his family's New Jersey home, he went to work with his father (Minkah Sr.), a diesel mechanic, after school and football practice.
"[I had] a couple of other jobs that not every 14-year-old is doing," Fitzpatrick said. "They’re usually playing in the backyard or something like that while I was at work until 12 o’clock at night. It was just instilled in me. I couldn’t complain. I had to do it because I knew I had to help my parents out and help my family out. Definitely that was the main reason why I had to work, was because of the displacement from the hurricane."
There are many reasons the Dolphins took Fitzpatrick, the Alabama defensive back, with the NFL Draft's 11th pick. He's smart. He's instinctual. He's versatile.
But answers like the one he gave Friday, meeting with local reporters on the first day of Dolphins rookie minicamp, helped seal the deal.
Nick Saban is a great coach in part because he's a demanding coach. So if you get a compliment as a player, it's earned.
"Minkah does it as well as anybody I’ve ever coached, in terms of how he works every day, how he finishes plays, his conditioning level, just phenomenal," Saban said last year, per SECCountry.com. "Pays attention to detail. It’s important to him. Makes sure he knows what to do."
The Dolphins need their players — even their rookies — to be grown-ups, which sounds obvious, but last year proved that it's anything but. Chemistry issues were corrosive in Adam Gase's view, and Miami has tried to replace bad locker room guys with good ones.
Fitzpatrick sure seemed like one of the good ones Friday. He was humble, polite — and even a touch boring. The Dolphins will take all three.
An example: Fitzpatrick insisted that he thought he could slip the whole way to No. 32 in the draft.
That was never, ever going to happen. It was a surprise he lasted to 11.
The Dolphins think they got a steal. Fitzpatrick has a chance to be a dynamic player, regardless of where in the defensive backfield they put him. But this weekend is about baby steps. Coaches do not want to overload him, even if Fitzpatrick has been a fast learner at every level.
"I talked to Coach Gase, I talked to [defensive coordinator Matt] Burke, and they all said the same thing: ‘Just be yourself. Do what you’ve got to do to become your best self,” and with that, I’m going to help this team out," Fitzpatrick said. "Whether that be pushing myself, challenging myself in ways that I usually do, that’s going to better the people around me because they’re going to want to do the same thing. So it’s just doing what I have to do to be the best possible version of myself, and that’s going to overall benefit the team."
He wants to start, but isn't expecting it. He'd love to win rookie defensive player of the year, but knows that there is no destination without a journey.
"If you’re going to be great, you’ve always got to do extra," Fitzpatrick said. "There’s no extraordinary without extra. This is just what I’ve always done.
His family and Christian faith have been his bedrock throughout the most trying of times. Fitzpatrick will use part of the money from his rookie contract to buy his parents a home.
Besides, compared to changing the oil, football should be a breeze.
"Being in the NFL wasn’t the end goal," Fitzpatrick added. "I wanted to be a great player in the NFL, a legendary player in the NFL. I’ve made it to this part of the journey but there’s a whole lot more left to go."