EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald Jr. had quite the childhood growing up in the Twin Cities.
He was a two-time All-State and All-American prep high school football player, and he spent his teenage years as a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings during the tenure of Dennis Green.
"You know just being around your childhood idols," Fitzgerald said. "Coach Green gave me an opportunity of a lifetime to be around Cris Carter, Warren Moon, Joey Browner, Randy Moss, and Robert Smith. I can go on and on. To see their work ethic and dedication to their craft, that was really an eye-opening experience for a 14-year-old, 15-year-old. It was like on-the-job training almost."
Twelve years into his NFL career, Fitzgerald is the youngest player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions.
Thursday night his Cardinals host the team he once worked for growing up, and has the respect of Vikings players and coaches.
"He's outstanding, he really is," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "And for a guy, the class of person that he is, he does a lot of dirty work. Obviously he's got great hands, runs great routes and he doesn't try to be the center of the game. He tries to be a professional receiver, and I have a lot of respect for him."
Fitzgerald is having quite the season for a 32-year-old wide receiver in the league.
He is is third in the NFL in receptions (91), seventh in receiving yards (1,047), and fifth in targets (122).
Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians credits Fitzgerald's success this season to the fact that he hasn't been dealing with the injuries he has played through in years past.
"Two years ago, he had two pulled hamstrings and gutted it out," Arians said. "Last year he had two MCLs. This year, he's been predominantly healthy all year. He's in great shape. It took him a while to fit into the role that was a little bit of a change for him. He and Carson (Palmer) got on the same page, and it's fun to watch them play together."
The Arizona Cardinals offense ranks third in the NFL in passing yards this season (3,592), and Fitzgerald has seven touchdowns. The veteran wide receiver thinks this team's roster is better "top-to-bottom" than the team he and Kurt Warner led to Super Bowl XLIII.
"I think the depth that we have now is really what stands out to me," Fitzgerald said. "We have so much talent so many different positions. A lot of young guys mixed up with veterans and you know it's a really good mix. We got a great unit, no egos and guys that are really working hard to reach their goals."
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is having a career season in Arizona with 29 touchdowns this season. Fitzgerald credited his quarterback the success the offense is having.
"I'm just getting opportunities just in the flow of the game," Fitzgerald said. "The rapport with Carson is really well. We all feel as if he should be the National Football League MVP. He's playing at that level for us. Everyone is having success because of what he is capable of doing."
Fitzgerald reached the 1,000 career receptions milestone on Sunday with his eighth reception of the game against the St. Louis Rams. He spoke about what has driven him to continue to compete at such a high level through a decorated career.
"Every point in your career you are always fighting some type of battle," Fitzgerald said. "You are fighting somebody's perception of what you can do and what you can't do. I just love that challenge in every aspect."