Helping lead Br. Rice to a historic season last fall, twin brothers Danny and Joe Fitzgerald were a force on defense for the Crusaders.

A 5’8” cornerback, Danny patrolled the secondary. A 6’3” end, Joe terrorized opposing quarterbacks and backfields.

As for the height difference between the twins, Danny has heard all about it, including some advice from his grandfather.

“He said that you’re as good as you want to be,” Danny said. “Don’t let the size difference distance you from your goal. Ever since Joe started sprouting, he always told me that. Joe always pushed me a lot.”

The height difference has some friends wondering if the Fitzgeralds are actually twins.

“I’ve always been one of the taller kids in my grade,” Joe said. “We’ve always had the height difference. A lot of people don’t believe we’re twins.”

Br. Rice was the Class 8A runner-up last season, finishing 13-1.

The Crusaders won the program’s first Chicago Catholic League-Blue title since 2014 and were anchored by a defense that surrendered just 6.5 points a game.

Focal points of a dominant defense, the Fitzgerald brothers were playing for the team, but they had some additional personal motivation.

The brothers’ grandfather, Richard Kramer, died in August just weeks before the season-opener against Marist.

“We were close,” Joe said. “He wasn’t very mobile, so he couldn’t always go to our games, but if a game was on TV, he’d be telling us after that we should do this or that. He wanted to get to that first Marist game. I’m sure he was there, even just in spirit.”

The opening game against Marist, a 20-16 victory, was just the start for Br. Rice.

On defense, Joe started the season at linebacker but soon moved up to the defensive line.

He finished with 63 total tackles, 5 blocked passes, 4 sacks (-43 yards), 6 hurries and 13 tackles for loss.

“Playing on the offensive line freshman and sophomore years, it definitely helped me on defense,” Joe said. “I learned what’s hard to block. Switching to D-line, I knew the plays, knew the moves, so that was a much smoother transition.”

Getting most of his playing time junior year on special teams, Danny broke out in his senior season in a big way.

He piled up 29 tackles, 6 blocked passes, 5 interceptions (total return of 115 yards) and a fumble recovery.

The biggest difference was a simple adjustment with footwork.

“I felt comfortable locking in and not giving up that extra step,” Danny said. “I used to play where my feet were messed up, but I really worked in the offseason on that. When the opportunity came, I tried to take advantage day in and day out.”

For the Fitzgeralds and the Crusader program, the 2018 turnaround was all about erasing the memory of a forgettable 2017 campaign.

“I always had [the turnaround] on my mind, even the state championship,” Joe said. “Even when we were ranked in the 20s and 30s, you wake up for workouts thinking that it’s for a bigger purpose. We all did that. That was the biggest difference. We had a lot more people buy in.”

Next up for the Fitzgeralds is making their mark in college.

Joe will attend the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and Danny will attend St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

Joe loved the fit of St. Thomas as he went through the recruiting process.

“I really struggled with the decision, but it came down to what was the best spot to make me the best person,” Joe said. “That was St. Thomas. I felt like I could have a bigger impact and was valued more at St. Thomas.”

Danny’s visit with the Fighting Bees pulled him in immediately.

“It wasn’t too big or too small. I loved it when I visited,” Danny said. “It was a lot of fun, and I felt really comfortable being there.”

Not attending the same school will be an adjustment for both, but the Fitzgeralds are up for the challenge of collegiate football.

“It’s going to be a little different, a little weird not playing together,” Danny said. “[The two of us], it’s having a brother, but more than that. We’re way closer.”