Athlete of the Week: L.J. Fitzpatrick dominates three sports for the Bobcats

Published 11:30 am Saturday, March 30, 2024

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Beulah’s entire athletics program has seen a resurgence this season. The Bobcats’ football team went to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, the boys basketball team finished as region champions and now the track and field team is looking to build off of a strong first showing. For all three of those teams, one name has been constant, L.J. Fitzpatrick. 

Fitzpatrick has been everywhere during his senior season. Fitzpatrick started at defensive back and wideout for the football team and averaged nearly 11 points for the basketball team. Fitzpatrick finished second in the state in the high jump last season, and he earned his first win of the season on Wednesday, placing first in a meet in Beauregard. 

Fitzpatrick has played basketball the longest, but his impact on the football team last season is impossible to understate. Fitzpatrick started playing football during his junior year when the team finished with just one win. Fitzpatrick just wanted to help the team improve during his senior season. 

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“My goal for myself was to just do the best I could, especially because that wasn’t my sport,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was still coming off a bad season from my junior year. I was just hoping I could do the best I could to help my team [and] lead my team.” 

Basketball was Fitzpatrick’s first love as he started playing on the hardwood eight years ago, and he picked up track during his sophomore year. 

“It was the first love,” Fitzpatrick said about basketball. “It’s always been there. I just found out that I was good at the other too, and I just picked them up.” 

Fitzpatrick did not intend to become a three-sport athlete, but the coaches at Beulah were relentless in recruiting him to play other sports.
The football coaches began urging Fitzpatrick to join when he was just a freshman, and he started being asked to be a part of the track and field team as a seventh grader. It takes a lot of work to excel at all three sports, but the skills from each sport have helped Fitzpatrick to excel in all three. 

“I’m the man they go to for the jump ball. Basketball helped me a lot with that when I was jumping, dunking and catching alleys,” Fitzpatrick said. “Football helped me with basketball by being more physical. I knew that was a valuable part of my game that I was missing. Basketball and football help me improve my speed and jumping ability for track.” 

Playing three different sports also gives Fitzpatrick a lot of mentors. One of the coaches that Fitzpatrick has worked with the most is Rusty Arnett. Arnett is Beulah’s strength and conditioning coach, and he helped Fitzpatrick improve his work ethic in the weight room and improve his skillset on the football field. 

Coach Thomas Hill has spent a lot of time with Fitzpatrick on the hardwood, and the two have built a strong bond.
“They just helped me grow as a person and look at life differently from just sports,” Fitzpatrick said about Arnett and Hill. “When Coach Arnett first got here, we weren’t working out. We had no weight program. He kind of set me straight on lifting weights and getting stronger. I told him my goals, and he immediately went to work on them.” 

Playoff appearances in Beulah have been few and far between outside of the softball field. The program has seen a resurgence under principal Adam Johnson, football coach Matt Johnson, Hill and several other new coaches within the school. 

Fitzpatrick experienced the highs and lows of Beulah’s athletic program, and experiencing playoff berths this year has made his senior year a blast. 

“It was a crazy experience. It felt good because, after missing the playoffs and having bad seasons in the past four years, it felt different to have a turnaround,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Fitzpatrick moved to Beulah from Opelika as a seventh-grader. The small-town feel at Beulah made it easier for Fitzpatrick to feel at home, and now it is hard to imagine a time when he did not live in Beulah. 

“Beulah was a small school so it was easier to make friends and become more a part of the community,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was easier for me to feel more welcomed.” 

Fitzpatrick is in his last season as a high schooler, and he placed first in the high jump in Beulah’s first meet of the season. After finishing second in the state as a junior, Fitzpatrick is solely focused on taking the next step and winning at state this season. 

“That’s all my mind is set on,” Fitzpatrick said. “Ever since I lost last year… my mind has been set on winning state this year.”
Coach Donald Hayes has been the main coach that Fitzpatrick has worked with since joining the track and field team. Hayes is constantly looking for ways to improve. 

Hayes takes extra time with Fitzpatrick, records his jumps and sends him workouts to help him improve. 

After he graduates, Fitzpatrick plans to continue playing basketball at the next level with some small schools and Division I schools as possibilities. 

“Since I was like five, I’ve always watched March Madness and grew up watching basketball. It’s always been my dream to play in front of a college crowd, to hear that crowd cheer for me,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Fitzpatrick has been a dominant athlete for Beulah this year, but he hopes that he will be remembered for his selflessness. Fitzpatrick has tried to be a win-first player with the Bobcats. That showed early on. 

The Bobcats lost their starting center during Fitzpatrick’s sophomore season. Fitzpatrick switched to playing center after previously playing guard, and he brought the idea to the coaching staff himself. 

Fitzpatrick should make an impact at the next level, but leaving behind the program and family he has grown to love at Beulah High School is going to be a touch process. 

“Some of the things I’m going to miss most are the relationships I’ve made with the coaches, my friends and the teams,” Fitzpatrick said. “Being able to go to an away crowd and just quiet them down. Love for the sport, changes as you grow and get older. I’ll always love high school sports, there’s nothing like it.”