Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer catch up on all the high school basketball action. They discuss who's the favorite to win the Sunrise region and peek forward to Gorman vs. Centennial.
It was late at night, but Muraco couldn’t wait to deliver some great news. Fitzgerald was selected to the maxpreps.com junior All-America second-team offense, making him one of the nation’s top kickers from last fall.
Fitzgerald, who made 10 of 11 field goals and connected on a 48-yard attempt in the state championship game against Gorman, is valuable to Liberty for more than making extra points and field goals. He’s also an important piece of the defense, with an ability to land kickoffs in the end zone, helping the Patriots win the past three Sunrise Regional championships.
“It is an amazing thing to have a weapon at kicker because it changes your play calling and strategy with the game,” Muraco said.
Several teams in Southern Nevada don’t have a reliable kicker for making an extra point. Others rarely attempt a field goal.
But with Fitzgerald, Liberty wasn’t afraid to go for three points.
“When Muraco gives me the opportunity, I know I have to execute,” Fitzgerald said. “He gave me the chance to help myself get noticed.”
Fitzgerald was a soccer player until he entered high school, but he immediately found success on the gridiron while training with Liberty kicking coach Carlos Huerta. Huerta, the former University of Miami and NFL kicker, schooled him on the technique and leg speed of kicking a football.
In a matter of weeks, Fitzgerald went from being the kicker on the freshman team to appearing in the varsity playoffs.
“I just went with the coaching I got,” he said. “Carlos was a huge help. He tells me to stay calm and have confidence in myself that I can make (a kick). He makes sure I’m prepared.”
Fitzgerald has done the rest.
He frequently stayed after practice to get in more work and also kicked by himself on the weekends. In the offseason, in addition to kicking multiple days each week, he trains at Philippi Sports Institute with the hope of adding bulk to his 5-foot-10, 150-pound frame.
The hard work paid off in the state championship game. With the contest scoreless in the first quarter, Muraco called on Fitzgerald to attempt a 48-yard kick. He drilled it through the uprights to give Liberty its lone lead of the day, 3-0.
“The pressure doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “When I go out there to kick, I know what I have to do. I zone out the crowd. I don’t hear anybody.”
Starks, who has scholarship offers from the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, and will be one of the class of 2014’s top prospects nationally, played both running back and in the secondary for state champion Gorman.
He rushed for 1,821 yards and 27 touchdowns but was honored for his ability on defense. Most games, Starks played several snaps on both sides of the ball and showed few signs of getting tired despite having a key role on offense and defense.
"It feels great to get noticed and have everyone recognize my talents," Starks said.