Football: Success of Vitale, Lowry at NFL Combine no surprise to Northwestern coaching staff


Daily file photo by Jacob Swan

Dan Vitale turns upfield. The former Northwestern superback boosted his draft stock as one of the top performers in various athletic drills during the weekend’s NFL Draft Combine.

Bobby Pillote, Web Editor


Northwestern superback Dan Vitale was just the 37th-leading receiver in the Big Ten this season, but emerged as a top performer at the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend.

Vitale, who participated in workouts and drills as a running back, placed first in the bench press by putting up 30 reps and was also among the top five performers in the vertical jump, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle.

“I knew (Vitale) would work really hard,” superbacks coach Bob Heffner said. “Dan’s always been a pretty strong guy. … I’ve been more concerned with how he made a block or how he ran a route, but I’m really happy for him.”

There’s no superback position in the NFL, and Vitale is instead trying to stick as a more traditional fullback. Heffner said he has no doubt Vitale can exceed in that role as a lead blocker and that the versatile athlete also brings value by being able to play special teams. However, Vitale still faces an uphill battle to find an NFL home given just a handful of teams still keep a fullback on the roster.

Defensive end Dean Lowry also participated in the Combine, posting solid numbers that didn’t impress relative to the competition in his position group quite the way Vitale’s did. Lowry’s best event was the bench press, where he finished tied for fifth with 30 reps.

“I thought both Dan and Dean would do a great job,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “From a standpoint of football in shorts, football Olympics, those two guys are on the podium. They’ve been that way their whole career here. … Very proud of them, but I’m not surprised.”

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