Dan Vitale, Northwestern Wildcats football, No. 40

USA TODAY Sports

Dan Vitale went from a random true freshman to a legitimate weapon over the course of 2012. The future's bright for Northwestern's No. 1 superback.

Who would've thought one of Northwestern's least highly-touted recruits would turn into one of its most dangerous weapons as a true freshman? It doesn't happen often, but it happened with Dan Vitale, a guy who didn't seem to have a position in high school, and ended up a star at Northwestern's position that isn't really a position. Read up on Vitale, a 6'2, 220-pound sophomore:

Origin myth

Vitale was a star on one of the best teams in the state, Wheaton-Warrenville South, who won 7a (second-highest level) state championships in 2009 and then with Vitale on the roster in 2010 before losing in the title game in 2011. That last year was Vitale's time to shine, as he started for the Tigers at running back. He'd run for 1,340 yards on 5.58 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns, earning all-state honors, but lost in a matchup of 13-0 teams to Dean Lowry's Boylan Catholic team. (Note: this game was being played on the TV next to my booth on a relatively empty Friday night at McGee's one time, and they showed a graphic that Dan Vitale was going to Northwestern. Damn, I miss McGee's.) However, he was sort of a man without a country. A 6'2, 205-pound running back? Not really fast enough to play wide receiver or running back, not really big enough to be a tight end. Rivals called him a two-star athlete, Scout called him a 2-star safety, and ESPN called him a two-star wide receiver. Northwestern and Central Michigan were the only schools that came calling, and he committed the June before his senior season, which kinda turned out to be his breakout year.

Hey, let's watch two big plays Vitale made in that championship game, losing effort regardless!

Looks running back-y, huh?

At Northwestern

Vitale showed up and entered a superback depth chart that was basically empty with the departure of Drake Dunsmore. The only players with any playing experience were Tim Riley (as a special teamer/linebacker) and Evan Watkins (as a quarterback), and as such, Vitale earned the top spot on the depth chart out of training camp. He started out not being used much: one catch against Syracuse, one against Vanderbilt, two against Boston College. But he'd slowly get integrated more and more: a touchdown against Nebraska, another against Michigan. Against Michigan State, he'd reel in nine catches for 110 yards, a team-high. And in the Gator Bowl, he'd have seven for 82 yards. All things told, Danny V would have 28 receptions for 288 yards, well over half of each in the last three games of the season.

Career highlight

For one year, there's a lot of choices here. There were his two touchdowns, his 41-yard-grab to set up Northwestern for the go-ahead field goal against Michigan State, and his winding shovel pass that almost led to a touchdown in the bowl game, which set up a field goal and which MountainTiger broke down back in January. But we chose another play, from later in the Gator Bowl.

The Gator Bowl started out really fun -- Northwestern's up 7-0 already? NORTHWESTERN'S UP 13-0 ALREADY? -- but soon, it was just 13-10, and shortly after the half, Mississippi State tied the game at 13.

Then, NU got moving. On third-and-10, Trevor Siemian threw a beautiful ball to Rashad Lawrence across his body, then hit Demetrius Fields on a post route that got NU to the 37. With top cornerback Johnthan Banks out of the game, the Bulldogs' pass coverage was reeling, and Siemian got everybody to the line quickly and had the Cats set up trips right. He dropped back, and quickly made his decision: Vitale, the middle of the three receivers, was running a go route, and had gotten past true freshman cornerback Zack Jackson, there was no safety, and the outside cornerback, Corey Broomfield, was too far away to cover. That left nobody between Vitale and paydirt Siemian but it seemed a little bit too high for Vitale to catch. But Vitale would leap, spin to face Siemian, and while falling backwards, would grab the ball at the summit of his jump. He couldn't keep his footing, but the spectacular 34-yard catch set NU up with goal to go, and a play later, Tyris Jones would punch the ball in from the three yard line, giving NU a 20-13 lead, the go-ahead touchdown in Northwestern's first bowl win in OVER 60 DAMN YEARS.

Anagram of choice

Discovering the Wildcats' true inner selves through spelling

Dan Vitale, anagrammed, is

DENIAL VAT

To opponents, Dan Vitale is a big ol' bucket of "THIS ISN'T HAPPENING TO US." (Also considered: "A Divalent," which is a molecule or ion with a valence of two, "Naval Tide," which RTR, "Tie Vandal," which is a dude who messes with y our neckware, "Deviant Al" and "Valiant Ed," a Goofus and Gallant-esque tag-team wrestling combo, and "Van detail," such as "it's white and has no windows."

Relevant musical selection

"Versace (Remix)," Migos ft. Drake

VITALE VITALE VITALE VITALE VITALE VITALE

(This is your earworm for the summer. No, I didn't know who Migos were before this song. THANKS, DRAKE.)

How he can help

The Rittenblog called Vitale Northwestern's X-factor. I don't like calling people X-factors. What, are they pornographic/are they made out of plutonium?

Northwestern calls its fullbacks and tight ends "superbacks." I don't like calling fullbacks and tight ends superbacks. They're fullbacks and tight ends everywhere the hell else. Why must we lump?

But in Dan Vitale's case, it sorta makes sense. He's got the catching skills and height of a wide-out, but the ball-carrying instincts of a running back. His SIR AND/OR MADAM, I DON'T APPRECIATE YOUR ATTEMPTS AT TACKLING ME nature reminds me of Drake Dunsmore, and Drake Dunsmore is one of my favorite Northwestern football players of all time. He's a definite weapon lined up in the slot or as a tight end, and he can also do some work out of the backfield. He's an x-factor, he's a superback. He's a melange of weird stuff. He's good. I like him.

Depth chart projection

Startin Superback, duh. I'm excited about the future with this kid. That's what we saw from him as a freshman, randomly sprung onto the college level. He's a playmaker, and he's got three years left to make plays.
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