You've heard of lockdown corners. You know, cornerbacks that are so good that quarterbacks nary bother throwing it their way. So good that, by virtue of the other team avoiding them, they often have nothing to do.Well, Brandon Vitabile is like that – kind of. But he doesn't play cornerback. Instead, Vitabile, a 6-3, 300-pounder from New Jersey, is what you might call a lockdown center.
"He's just a guy who, I've known in the past people change their defense for him," said his Bishop George Ahr High School coach, Ron Hilliard. "Nobody puts anybody on top of him anymore. They used to use a nose guard, but they realized that their guy would end up in the secondary. So people don't waste a guy on top on him."That's good news for Northwestern, which received a commitment from Vitabile on Tuesday.
Vitabile, who became NU's second 2010 commit on the offensive line along with Paul Jorgenson, is one of the Wildcats' biggest signings of the summer. The three-star prospect is rated by Scout as the No. 16 center in the nation; he is rated even higher by other outlets.So it's not just his coach who praises him. Although Hilliard certainly isn't short on good things to say.
"He's a physical specimen," Hilliard said of Vitabile, who can bench-press about 400 pounds and squat 500. "He's probably one of the strongest kids we've ever had in our building…."We haven't had a kid like him. He's just so much more developed and more mature than anybody we've had. His body – that's what separates him. He's a 17-year-old kid in a 20-year-old's body. He's just put together. His body developed quicker than other guys."
While no doubt aided by his frame – its helps to be a thick 6-foot-3 – Hilliard said Vitabile couples an uncanny work ethic to his natural gifts."He lives (in the weight room). He's one of those guys, if the weight room's locked, he'll find a way in….
"He's working harder now than ever. And he's not working to play for us. His job is pretty safe with us. He's looking to get to the next level and beyond, so he's working harder than ever."Vitabile figures to solidify the center position for Northwestern for years to come. Northwestern has a habit of redshirting freshman lineman, so Vitabile may not see any action when he gets to NU in 2010.
But while he's waiting, Vitabile will be able to learn from one of the best centers in the nation. Sophomore Ben Burkett started all 13 games last season, garnered third-team All-Freshman team honors from Phil Steele and has been named to the preseason watch-list for the 2009 Rimington Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's top center.Looking a few years out, then, Northwestern figures to be set at center. Burkett will be a senior when Vitabile is a redshirt freshman, which would put Vitabile in line to start as a sophomore. Probably, at least.
That's not to say that Vitabile isn't ready to play. Like the Wildcats, Hilliard's squad runs the spread offense, which makes the coach think Northwestern is all the better fit for his center."He plays a valuable spot for us," Hilliard said. "We run the same offense as Northwestern. And center is one spot that for the last three years we haven't ever talked about, which is a luxury with the spread."
What's more, the work ethic Hilliard described transcends the field; it spills into the classroom as well. Hilliard said Vitabile – who ultimately chose NU over Syracuse, Michigan State and Vanderbilt – is as committed as a student as he is a center."Brandon's a 4.4 GPA guy. He has tutors in every subject. He just doesn't know how to fail. When he puts is mind to it, he accomplishes it. He's very determined. He doesn't know how to be number two or number three. His work ethic is pretty darn good. He is a kid that I know is going to go to college and come home with degree. I have no doubt about that."