Tommy Vitale had unique access for years.
His brother, Dan, committed to NU on June 10, 2011, and this started the three-year process of Tommy learning about the program.
Tommy watched the initial rise of Northwestern football, when the Wildcats beat Mississippi State in the 2012 Gator Bowl. Vitale was in attendance for one of the program’s seminal moments.
“Going to the Gator Bowl, it was an awesome experience,” Tommy Vitale told PurpleWildcats.com. “You see their first bowl win in so long. That had a huge impact.
“You see the parade, all the fans. It was an insane environment, especially with the MSU cowbells. I get to see my brother’s bowl ring all the time.”
Then, it was time for NU to continue its trademark family focus. The Wildcats started recruiting Tommy, then an unranked linebacker from Wheaton Warrenville South.
He described growing up in a “football family,” with his dad coaching him through middle school and his mom a “fanatic.” That meshed well with the college environment, where Tommy watched Dan succeed quickly—catching 34 passes for 382 yards in his freshman season.
Their motivation arrived through “underdog” status. Dan and Tommy were both undersized in high school, with Tommy listed at 5-foot-11 in his sophomore year. Dan was only a two-star recruit when he committed to NU. Tommy was unranked until very recently. Their dad calls them “late bloomers.”
But, like his brother, Tommy earned obvious attention from the NU coaching staff. He was invited to a game this season, which he called an “exciting” experience. Knowing so much about the NU program—including the coaches—he was comfortable at the school his brother attended.
Things escalated when Vitale made his unofficial visit on April 12. The night before, Northwestern tipped their hand by asking for his transcripts and GPA. He picked up an offer the following day and committed immediately.
“It was exciting to be recruited by the school my brother’s at,” he said. “They offered me and it was so exciting. I knew everything about it.”
Vitale already watched the standard: His brother emerged from obscurity and became a starter at superback. He learned all of the same lessons.
“Dan I always talk about being determined in order to get better,” he said. “Some guys are bigger when they’re younger and stop being motivated. Me and my brother, we’re always hungry.”