Northwesterns line stocked with suburban stars
Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald's offense this season will open with three starters from suburban teams: Fremd, Montini and Wheaton Warrenville South.
Associated Press file
Northwestern bills itself as Chicago's Big Ten team.
So it's appropriate for this year's squad to have a local flavor. Three suburban natives earned starting spots on the offensive line during summer camp and will be on the field when the Wildcats open their season at Syracuse on Saturday.
Sophomore Jack Konopka (Fremd) will start at right tackle and fifth-year senior Chuck Porcelli (Montini) will be next to him at right guard. True freshman Dan Vitale (Wheaton Warrenville South), meanwhile, earned the starting nod at tight end, which Northwestern calls the "superback" position.
Konopka played tight end in high school and was recruited as a tackle, but shifted to superback during his freshman season. He saw some game action and caught one pass at Iowa.
"There were a few guys banged up in the superback room and since I played tight end at Fremd, they said, 'We're going to give you a shot here,'" Konopka said after a recent practice. "(This season) they wanted to use my athleticism to be able to be on the field every play — all 90-something snaps we take."
The only problem was Konopka, from Inverness, hadn't played offensive tackle since pee-wee football in Palatine, so he had plenty to learn.
"I love it. It's a good challenge," he said. "It's something I've never done before, so it was a little bit of a learning curve. I'm now starting to pick it up and I'm starting to enjoy it."
Porcelli has the size to play tackle at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. Konopka tried playing guard in the spring and it didn't work out well, so Porcelli ended up snagging the right guard spot. Saturday's game in Syracuse will be his first collegiate start.
"Chuck's really just stayed the course," NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. "His opportunity is now. He can play a lot of positions for us, has a great knowledge of what we're doing offensively. He's going to really help Jack."
Porcelli has been around so long he will answers question from offensive line coach Adam Cushing before the coach has finished speaking, according to Fitzgerald.
"Remember that show, 'Name That Tune?'" Fitzgerald said. "He can get it after one note. I'm excited for Chuck. He's always had a tremendous attitude. I think that's the hallmark of Chuck Porcelli. He comes in every day with a lot of excitement and energy to be here. I'm looking forward to watching him play."
Vitale's quick promotion wasn't a huge surprise, because the Wildcats knew they were thin at tight end after graduating Drake Dunsmore. Vitale played running back last year at Wheaton Warrenville South and rushed for 1,340 yards.
"Danny's a very dynamic athlete," Fitzgerald said. "You look at what he did for coach (Ron) Muhitch at Wheaton South … he could have played quarterback. He could have played linebacker. Physically, he carried the ball 30-plus times in games; very tough young man.
"With that being said, he came in and grasped the offense quickly. He's been probably our most consistent superback. We told the whole group — this job is wide open after Drake graduated and whoever seizes the role through consistency on a day-to-day basis is going to have it.
"Am I ready to say Danny is Drake? No, but he's earned the right to go out there first and I look forward to watching him play."
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