As secret weapons go, Northwestern's Dan Vitale owns a pretty good disguise.
He plays the superback position, sort of a glorified description for tight end.
At most major colleges 6-feet-5 probably is the minimum height for a tight end, but Vitale checks in at 6-2, 230 and that might even be generous.
But the Wheaton Warrenville South grad got on the field right away last year as a true freshman and finished strong. He had 9 catches for 110 yards at Michigan State in Week 11, then added 7 receptions for 82 yards in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.
"It was a little bit (scary playing as an undersized true freshman)," Vitale said Thursday. "Especially at Penn State. I'll never forget how loud that was. But I'm not one of those guys who really ever gets nervous. It was just a lot more fun than I expected."
Vitale's relatively small stature is balanced by his surprising speed. Vitale confirmed he was timed at a blistering 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash this summer. Quarterback Kain Colter, of all people, called him a freak of nature.
"Last year it was kind of like I was going through the motions a little bit," Vitale said. "But this year I really get to lock it in and be myself and play my game and react more to everything that happens with the defense.
"Hopefully that will open up some opportunities to make some plays."
Most of Northwestern's receiving corps is back this year, and Vitale checks in as the fourth-leading returnee in receptions, behind wideouts Christian Jones, Rashad Lawrence and Tony Jones. Quarterbacks Colter and Trevor Siemian also return.
"Right now, I think we have some great mesh between our teammates this year starting out, which is great," Vitale said. "We don't really have to work on that too much. Everyone's pushing each other. It's great to see the excitement at practice.
"Obviously, that goal is to go undefeated and win the Big Ten championship and win our bowl game after that. My goal is to win the Big Ten championship, not be the best tight end (in the league)."