In recent years, the University of Louisville football program has had a notable amount of success in getting players to the NFL. In Charlie Strong’s tenure, a plethora of Cardinals went on to get drafted while more carved out professional roles via the undrafted route. Even though Bobby Petrino’s second stint with the university didn’t go as planned, a handful of players were able to make it to the league. Even with different coaching staffs, the expectation of getting guys to the NFL has, and will always remain, the same. That phenomenon will likely continue after this season as multiple players, including standout wide receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, look to make their childhood dreams come true.
Getting to the NFL is one thing, but staying there and being successful is a completely different ballgame. There are doubts and concerns over both Atwell’s and Fitzpatrick’s respective skillsets, but Louisville wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer sees greatness in the duo. Brewer has been all around the college football landscape as well as in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles; household names like Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Dez Bryant, and Justin Blackmon all have learned under Brewer’s coaching at some time in their journeys.
Not only is Brewer a believer in Atwell and Fitzpatrick at the next level, but he also sees some key similarities between them and the successful receivers that he has coached in the past. “One of the main things they all have in common is that competitive nature,” he explained. “That nature has to set you apart because the respective grinds of both college and pro football are both similar in the sense of, if you’re going to be really good at it, the work off the field is as important as the work on the field.”
On top of the differences in mindset, Brewer also acknowledges what separates from others on the field. “Their skillset has allowed both of those guys to make catches in traffic and big plays regardless of situation.”
In three seasons at Louisville, Tutu Atwell was truly lightning in a bottle; the speedster amassed over 2,300 receiving yards and tallied 20 touchdowns. A large chunk of that production was recorded during his sophomore season in 2019 in which he broke the university’s record for the amount of receiving yards in a single season (1,272). Atwell finishes his Louisville career etched into Cardinal history books, ranking ninth in total receiving yards and sixth in total receiving touchdowns.
The 2020-21 season was set for Atwell to have another breakout year, but injuries hindered the star receiver’s abilities. “For the last three or four weeks, he was playing injured,” Brewer said. “It wasn’t against the advice of the medical personnel, but it was his call to make. To do that for his teammates knowing that he would be very limited, speaks volumes about his character. He’s going to graduate and have his degree here soon while having the chance to go to the next level and fulfill that dream.”
Contrary to popular belief, Brewer shared that Atwell did not in fact opt out of the season; instead, the medical team around the program was going to hold him out of the season finale against Wake Forest and likely any potential postseason bowl game until they were given better results in terms of healing. Electing to rest and eliminate the risk of aggravating the injury was the best option to take.
Through Atwell’s career, many have tried to pin his small size against him in regards to his professional projection. However, there has never been a time in NFL history in which quicker, smaller receivers with homerun potential have been valued as much as they are now. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill has served as a pioneer and prime example for players of smaller stature to witness high amounts of success at the position. The phenomenon began to trend upward when Baltimore drafted Oklahoma speedster Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown with the 25th-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and Las Vegas followed a year later by selecting Henry Ruggs III with the 12th-overall pick in the 2020 draft.
“It sets a precedent,” Brewer explained. “In years past there’s been more of a focus on larger receivers. It’s (football) transitioning into a game that allows a person of that stature (Atwell) to play at the next level. With the season he had last year and the momentum he carried into this year until his injury, the scouts have been saying that Atwell has really increased his productivity and route- running ability.”
On the other end of the spectrum, sits Dez Fitzpatrick. “He’s a technical football player that has a different skillset than Tutu does,” Brewer explained. “Not only in size and speed, but for his size, athleticism as well. Dez is a prototype professional player; he’s above 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds with a short area of quickness that allows him to get in and out of cuts. He also has deceptive long speed, great range of motion, catch radius, and competitive catching abilities. I’m looking forward to his development at the next level both in body and mind; he’s gotten extremely better at understanding coverages, how to fit in zones and get open in man-to-man, and the different techniques you have to use.”
Since coming to Louisville, Brewer has seen Fitzpatrick grow significantly as a wide receiver in many ways. “It’s a very intricate position,” Brewer said. “You have different styles of play, and from a freshman up until now, I know from speaking with former Louisville wide receivers coach (Lonnie) Galloway that he was always a tremendous athlete, but has become more of a complete player with added maturity over the years. He has made a huge difference in our program.”
With one to two games remaining, Fitzpatrick currently ranks seventh in school history in career receiving yards (2,512) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (21). On the field, he has been a fan favorite, but he has solidified himself as a Cardinal legend off of the field. Even in times of adversity, Fitzpatrick never wavered in his commitment to the program and the university.
Brewer echoed that sentiment and explained that his relationship with the Farmington Hills, MI native has solidified tremendously. “In a short period of time, Dez and I have been able to grow together,” he said. “He has matured on different levels; his dad and family have been huge Louisville supporters. We (coaching staff) see that not just in the social media world, but off the field as well in the city of Louisville and the university.”
For Brewer, both of the guys are extremely special in their own ways both on and off the field. However, his wish is for the duo to be viewed in the same light. “What I would love to see the city of Louisville and the university remember the most about these guys is the loyalty they showed towards their school, teammates, and position,” he said. “With how things ended up a few short years ago along with the COVID year, they could have easily taken their ball and went on home. There would have been plenty of places that would have loved to have had their services, but instead they stuck it out when times weren’t good.” Whether it was in a red and black uniform, or as a member and ambassador of the community, Atwell and Fitzpatrick always put Louisville first; they’ve shown through their acts of good character that they will remains cards forever.