December 9, 2003

Panthers Land Four Players On All-Big East Squad

University of Pittsburgh sophomore receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been named the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, while senior punter Andy Lee repeated as the Big East Co-Special Teams Player of the Year, the conference announced today.

Fitzgerald, Lee and senior quarterback Rod Rutherford were each unanimous first team All-Big East selections. Junior offensive tackle Rob Petitti was a first-team selection, while senior tight end Kris Wilson earned second-team honors.

All selections are made by the league's head coaches, who are not permitted to vote for their own players. Fitzgerald and Lee are repeat first-team selections. Rutherford and Petitti both moved up from second team in 2002 to first team this year.

Fitzgerald (Minneapolis, Minn./Academy of the Holy Angels/Valley Forge Military Academy [Pa.]) is the third Pittsburgh player to earn the league's Offensive Player of the Year honor and just the second to do so outright. Tailback Billy West won the honor in 1994, while receiver Antonio Bryant was a co-recipient of the award in 2000. Fitzgerald is the third receiver in Big East history to earn the honor, following Bryant and Miami's Santana Moss in 2000.

The prolific wideout has set two NCAA receiving records this season, including consecutive games with a TD catch (18) and TD catches as a freshman and sophomore (34). He has tied the NCAA mark for games catching a TD pass in one season (12-tied with Marshall's Randy Moss, 1997).

He additionally has set seven Big East receiving records this year: single-season receiving yards (1,595), single-season receptions (87), single-season TD catches (22), career TD catches (34), career 1,000-yard receiving seasons (two), career 100-yard receiving games (14) and single-season 100-yard receiving games (10).

Lee (Westminster, S.C./West-Oak) led the Big East and ranked 14th nationally with a 44.0-yard punting average. It is the highest punting average for a Big East player since 1997. He had 20 punts of 50-plus yards with 23 downed inside the 20 this year. Lee is the first player in conference history to earn back-to-back Big East Player of the Year honors.

Rutherford (Pittsburgh, Pa./Perry Traditional Academy) is the first Panthers quarterback to earn first team All-Big East. He broke the league's 10-year-old single-season record for total offense, compiling 3,572 yards this year (eclipsing Boston College's Glenn Foley's 3,353 yards in 1993). Rutherford additionally passed for a Pittsburgh-record 3,433 yards, breaking Alex Van Pelt's mark of 3,163 set in 1992.

Rutherford has thrown 35 touchdown passes this year, second at Pittsburgh only to the legendary Dan Marino, who threw 37 in 1981. Rutherford is one of just four Panthers quarterbacks to throw for 6,000 career yards (6,478). The others are Alex Van Pelt (11,267 from 1989-92), Marino (8,597 from 1979-82) and John Congemi (6,467 from 1983-86).

Petitti (Rumson, N.J./Rumson-Fair Haven Regional) becomes the first Pittsburgh offensive lineman to repeat as an All-Big East performer since Ruben Brown was a three-time selection from 1992-94. Petitti has started every game during his career (37) at left tackle.

Wilson (Lancaster, Pa./J.P. McCaskey), a finalist for the John Mackey Award (nation's outstanding tight end), earns All-Big East for the first time in his career. He led all tight ends nationally with nine touchdown catches, while compiling 42 receptions for 589 yards. Wilson has an active streak of 40 consecutive starts for Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh finished the regular-season with an 8-4 overall record and 5-2 Big East mark. The Panthers will play Virginia (7-5) in the Continental Tire Bowl Dec. 27, their fourth consecutive postseason bid. The four consecutive bowl berths mark the Panthers' best postseason stretch since advancing to nine straight from 1975-83.

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