By Marty O'Brien
POQUOSON - Brad Fitzpatrick is a young man in a hurry.
As a wrestler at Poquoson High, he set the school record for the quickest pin by stopping an opponent in nine seconds. Now, at 21, Fitzpatrick has become the youngest head coach in the history of the Islanders' storied wrestling program.
Poquoson athletics director Dave Nelson admits that hiring a coach as youthful as Fitzpatrick to guide the Peninsula's highest-profile prep wrestling program is an unusual move.
But Nelson became convinced of Fitzpatrick's ability to handle the position during his stint as assistant to interim coach Joe Boone last season.
"He did a wonderful job and we didn't want to lose a young man of his quality to another program," Nelson said, citing the abundance of prep wrestling coaching openings on the Peninsula.
"He's a perfect role model. If the younger kids emulate Brad, we'll have a successful program."
Fitzpatrick won state Group AA individual titles at 152 and 160 pounds during his career at Poquoson. He was selected as the Daily Press All-Stars Wrestler of the Year in 1997, when he went 34-2 and finished his prep career with a 13-8 victory over defending state champ Donnie Bishop of Grundy in the AA final at 160.
Injuries limited Fitzpatrick's to just 10 bouts at Old Dominion University. Following a career-ending back injury, Fitzpatrick turned his focus to coaching.
"I still had a love of the sport and a need to be a part of it again," he said. "The longer I was away from wrestling, the stronger that need became. That's what drew me to coaching."
Despite the intense scrutiny that comes with the head coaching position at Poquoson -- which captured its ninth state title in 1999 -- Fitzpatrick feels that he earned the respect of team parents as assistant coach last season. He'll be assisted by an experienced coaching staff that includes longtime area youth coaches Keke Goodson (of the Attic Club) and Dennis Pearce (of Youth America).
Gaining the respect of Poquoson's wrestlers -- a couple of whom were in the program with him -- will be Fitzpatrick's first priority.
"The biggest challenge will be setting the tone of when it's time to work," he said. "I've got to say that kids test you every day, whether they know it or not. But I learned a lot being under coach Boone last year. I picked up a lot of techniques and learned how to handle a lot of the things coaches do on a day-to-day basis.
"It's a real honor to be able to coach at my old high school. As I told someone the other day, the biggest reward in coaching is that I win all 14 matches as a coach, where I won just one as a wrestler."
Fitzpatrick remains a student at ODU. He plans to transfer to Christopher Newport and become a physical education teacher in the Poquoson school system upon graduation.
Marty O'Brien can be reached at 247-4963 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org