Vitale catching on with Wildcats

Dan Vitale was seldom used during the start of his freshman season. However, that has changed as the superback is now fully grasping his unique role. Vitale is catching on with the Wildcat offense.

Dan Vitale was dreading Monday. The Wheaton Warrenville South (Ill.) product entered the Northwestern locker room wearing a 1970s-style, awkwardly-fitting jersey of high-school rival Wheaton North.

It was payment on a friendly wager with teammate Mike Trumpy after his Wheaton North Falcons topped Vitale's Tigers in the city rivalry game.

"I had all the faith in the Tigers and they ended up losing," said Vitale of his lost wager.

The lost wager took Vitale down to earth after a milestone achievement on Saturday.

"That's a little bit of humble pie after his first touchdown," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The freshman superback found the end zone for the first time in his young career on Saturday. The situation was third-and-6 from the 10-yard line. Vitale was told to get open over the middle.

"I knew it was my shot on that play," said Vitale. "They called my number, it came my way, I caught it and ran for dear life. I wanted to get that touchdown."

Upon reaching the end zone, the soft-spoken Vitale unleashed a loud yell in celebration, just before he was mobbed by teammates offering congratulations.

"It's just an incredible feeling, but hopefully there's more to come," he said. "That's in the past, no matter how great it was. I've got to get a few more of them this next week."

Vitale has big shoes to fill at superback, Northwestern's hybrid H-Back position which was occupied by standout Drake Dunsmore for four years.

The season started with Vitale, and every other superback, being seldom used in the offense; instead, Northwestern often featured a four-receiver set excluding the position. NU coaches wanted to let Vitale grow into his new role, but he proved to be ready.

Vitale has hauled in 10 catches this season, and is being targeted more frequently, especially in the red zone. He's matching confidence with natural talent.

"Danny has a really bright future ahead of him," said Fitzgerald. "We didn't want to give him too much too soon, but as the season's gone along, we've added more to his plate."

The starting superback job was won through intense competition, so with that in mind, Vitale continues to push himself for improvements. He uses a mantra for motivation.

"You've really just got to do your job," he said. "That's what I've been trying to do, just do my job the best that I can every week -- in and out.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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