Wildcats' Vitale not trying to be Superman

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
5:00
PM ET
That Dan Vitale bears a slight resemblance to Superman -- you be the judge -- and plays the superback position for Northwestern suggests he possesses hidden heroic qualities.

There's no doubt Vitale is a multitalented individual. The junior can catch (62 receptions in his first two seasons), line up in the backfield, occasionally run the ball and consistently block. At 6-2 and 237 pounds, Vitale has a unique size/speed/strength mix. He played running back in high school but, depending on the recruiting outlet, projected as a wide receiver and a safety at the college level. He's an academic All-Big Ten selection who serves on the team's leadership council.

[+] EnlargeDan Vitale
Reid Compton/USA TODAY SportsNorthwestern's Dan Vitale tried to do too much last fall, and it hurt his overall production.
Oh, and he also can sing a bit, too (go to the 37-second mark).

Northwestern's superback position -- part tight end, part fullback -- seems to offer Vitale the type of blank canvas he needs. But in 2013, he spent too much time on the concept and not enough on the actual painting.

"I wanted to do big things but thought about it too much," Vitale recently told ESPN.com. "I just need to come out there and react more and be a smarter player subconsciously. I'm an older guy now, so I should know what I'm doing out there on the field.

"Don't overthink and make big plays."

Vitale's production wasn't awful in 2013. He finished third on the team in both receptions (34) and touchdown catches (3), and added four rushes for 27 yards. He had nice performances against Cal (five receptions, 101 yards) and Michigan State (five catches, 58 yards). But the surge many expected after Vitale's strong finish to his freshman season -- he was one of only four true freshmen to see the field in 2012 -- didn't come on a consistent basis.

Arguably his most notable moment was a notorious one: an illegal block late in the fourth quarter of a tie game against Iowa. It nullified a Kain Colter run that had put Northwestern well into field-goal range. The Wildcats went on to lose in overtime.

Vitale felt ready for an increased workload -- he went from logging about 20 plays per game as a freshman to more than 60 last fall -- but he became too cerebral, especially during the team's seven-game Big Ten losing streak.

"That's on us as coaches as much as anything," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Maybe he pressed a little too much and tried to make too many big plays."

Asked about the roles Vitale can fill for the Wildcats offense, Fitzgerald laughed and replied: "A lot of them." But he adds that the coaches must be sensitive about putting too much on Vitale's plate this season.

"Not that he can't learn it, he will," Fitzgerald said, "but we can't have him out there thinking."

Fitzgerald likes Vitale's mind-set so far this spring. Vitale had a good winter, elevating his max bench-press by 10-15 pounds and bulking up. He's more familiar with a starter's workload and has a good connection with Trevor Siemian, likely the team's top quarterback.

Northwestern also has more options at superback to spell Vitale or pair with him in different formations. Redshirt freshman Jayme Taylor has emerged this spring, Mark Szott provides experience and ESPN 300 recruit Garrett Dickerson arrives in the summer.

Vitale knows he can't be Superman at the superback spot, but his goals remain high.

"I want to earn the trust of the QBs," he said. "I've got to get my hands locked in, catch everything and get my blocking to where I want it to be.

"I want to be one of the biggest playmakers on the team."

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