STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - It doesn't seem to take much to get Craig Fitzgerald fired up, especially when it comes to leading the Penn State football team in conditioning drills at 5:30 in the morning while wearing shorts in temperatures near freezing.
Fitzgerald, a Philadelphia native and former La Salle High School football star, also is fired up to be able to create his own strength program inside the large weight room in the university's Lasch Football Building.
Fitzgerald, 39, who was hired Jan. 30 as director of strength and conditioning for football, has established a platform for weight training that includes a bench, a barbell, and adjustable dumbbells. There are 24 platforms in the room, which allows players to do multiple exercises at each instead of moving to one machine and then another.
His new weight-training program stresses free weights, squats, and Olympic-style lifting, and Fitzgerald believes the Nittany Lions have taken to it quite well.
"It's been a lot of fun," he told reporters Monday. "We kind of like the idea of being the first ones to teach these lifts to them. I guess the challenge would be just to be patient. But that was easy for us because the kids are working so hard. They're doing a fantastic job."
Penn State is equipping its weight room with new equipment from Sorinex, of Irmo, S.C., which is expected to arrive around May 1. The company has equipped weight rooms at Auburn, California, and UCLA.
"We've looked at those weight rooms and said, 'What do we like? What do we want to improve upon?' " Fitzgerald said. "We feel like we've taken some ideas and tinkered with them a little bit."
Fitzgerald, who came here after three seasons in a similar capacity at South Carolina, is the second member of La Salle's Class of 1991 to be hired by Penn State this year. John Butler, the new defensive backs coach, was a teammate of Fitzgerald and Keith Conlin, an All-Big Ten offensive tackle with the Lions whose older brother, Chris, also played at Penn State.
Fitzgerald was born and raised in Chestnut Hill, where his parents still live. He played his college football at Maryland.
"Penn State has always been a proud football program, one of the best of all-time," he said. "I used to kid around with Keith but one of the big lures here was that I saw just how much pride he had in this program with his family over the years growing up with them.
"We're loving State College. I have three boys and they're getting along really well, so they're enjoying it."
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who plans to run a high-tempo offense, likes the results of the new program.
"You can see where Fitz and his assistants and his program have had a direct effect on different guys already," O'Brien said. "You go from looking one way to looking more like a V-shape and that's what you're looking for in your linemen. You can see it already in their conditioning levels and their flexibility."
Fitzgerald said he's glad to be starting a new program from scratch, and that he feels that Penn State will be the best facility in the country once the new equipment is in place.
"The whole football facility - right in the middle of campus and near where our players live and eat, right at a centralized location, near the practice fields, academic support in the same building, all the football coaches fully accessible to the players - is tremendous," he said.
"The weight room is now going to be up there with the rest of the facility. It's just a huge upgrade."