Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch’s plan was to use senior Dan Vitale as a secret weapon this season.
Muhitch thought he could line Vitale all over the field. He could get some carries at running back. He could catch passes at wide receiver. The hope was to use him in a varsity of ways, so defenses wouldn’t know where Vitale would hit them next.
That wasn’t to be.
Because the Tigers graduated so much talent from last year’s undefeated state championship team, Muhitch was forced to show his hand and put Vitale in the backfield as the team’s primary ball carrier.
It wasn’t the ideal situation, but Vitale has made the best of it. He has shown the type of athleticism that convinced Northwestern’s coaches he was someone they needed on their team despite not knowing exactly what position he’ll play in the future.
Vitale has scored five of the Tigers’ nine touchdowns, rushed for 455 yards and caught 21 passes for 126 yards this season.
“He does everything we ask of him as a player, including carry the ball 25 times for us, which is a completely different role than last year,” Muhitch said. “To be the leading running back, I was hoping not to have to use him there. He’s my featured back, my lead guy.”
Vitale hasn’t minded. If he’s on the field, getting touches and helping the team, he’s content.
“Oh, yeah, I love it,” the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Vitale said.
Vitale has always had that team-player mentality. Last year, he was asked to play fullback even though he had never played there, and he just shook his head in agreement and did it.
“I just want to play football,” Vitale said. “Last year, I definitely tried to fill the gap the team needed. I knew that was going to be the best team to come through in the team’s history. I wanted to be a part of that. I thought I added to the team even though I wasn’t in 100 percent of the plays.”
Vitale was a role player on last year’s state championship team, but he did have his share of larger contributions. His highlight tape was enough to catch the attention of Northwestern and a variety of other schools.
With Vitale’s grandfather being a longtime Northwestern fan, it was a school he already thought highly of. After the Wildcats saw Vitale’s athleticism up close at a summer camp, they offered him, and he committed right on the spot in June.
“They were impressed in him as an athlete,” Muhitch said. “That was the biggest thing that sold them on him as a player. I can tell you [Northwestern coach] Pat Fitzgerald called me personally and said, ‘This, coach, is a great talent, and we really think he has a bright future.’”
Vitale has been told he could play linebacker or superback for the Wildcats. He’ll know more next year.
But before Vitale makes that next step, he still has some unfinished business at the high school level. Wheaton Warrenville South has struggled at times this season and is now 2-3 overall, but Vitale is hopeful he and his teammates are turning that around.
“Losing is never fun,” Vitale said. “If you’re OK with it, there’s something wrong with you. I was definitely frustrated. I know our team could be a lot better than we were showing. It wasn’t the fact we were losing, but I thought we should be showing better. I think those days are over.”