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Northwestern freshman Brandon Vitabile is center of attention

In just his first two college games BrandVitabile is helping Northwestern’s line carve out holes for running game. | Stephen

In just his first two college games, Brandon Vitabile is helping Northwestern’s line carve out holes for the running game. | Stephen Carrera~Northwestern

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Updated: November 10, 2011 10:17AM

Northwestern freshman center Brandon Vitabile didn’t want to readily admit how nervous and excited he was to make his first collegiate start at Boston College on Sept. 3. Two weeks after his first game, Vitabile downplayed how he felt, but leave it to senior right guard Ben Burkett to out his offensive linemate’s emotions.

“He’s always nervous,” Burkett joked. “I heckle him a little bit about that.”

Being a center isn’t easy, and to be a true freshman center playing in the Big Ten is even more challenging. But two games into the Wildcats’ season, Vitabile seems to fit right in and is helping the offensive line create holes for quarterback Kain Colter and tailbacks Jacob Schmidt, Adonis Smith and true freshman Treyvon Green.

So far, the Wildcats have rushed for a combined 547 yards and eight touchdowns in victories over Boston College and Eastern Illinois. After the first two games in 2010, the Wildcats had only 306 rushing yards.

“There isn’t that much difference, because personnel-wise we have only one guy gone in Keegan Grant,” Burkett said. “But now we have most of the line as fifth-year seniors and that’s one more year experience. It makes a heck of a difference. The more you play, the easier it gets.”

When coach Pat Fitzgerald decided to name Vitabile as the starting center during training camp, Fitzgerald mentioned how having Burkett next to Vitabile would help the first-year player ease into playing college football.

Burkett said the most important thing he has helped Vitabile with is snapping fundamentals and watching film. And Vitabile is grateful.

“He does little things like if I have to do a certain block or footwork things or where to put my eyes on pass protection,” Vitabile said. “I overcame my fear of the first game to prove that I could do it. Now I know the coaches trust me and I have to keep earning that trust.”

Trumpy returns

There was some good news on the injury front coming out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tailback Mike Trumpy, who sat out the EIU game with a concussion, practiced on Wednesday, a good sign that he could play Saturday at Army.

Quarterback Dan Persa is still making progress from his Achilles injury, taking more reps in practice on Wednesday. Until the NU injury report comes out today, though, it is unknown whether Persa will play Saturday. Persa might sit out another week, since NU has a bye next week and the Wildcats open the Big Ten season at Illinois on Oct. 1.

Either way, Persa said he doesn’t have a timetable for his return but that he is getting frustrated with ­sitting out.

“[The bye] is huge for me, even if I play this week or I don’t, and I think I’ll be 100 percent ready by Illinois,” Persa said. “At the end of the day, I don’t want to say I’m coming back on this date and not be ready. I feel like I’m so close I can reach out and touch it. It’s getting frustrating, but I have to stay the course.

“It’s at the point of the coaches trusting me and trusting that I won’t go out there and do anything negative to my [right] leg. I want to show [the team doctors] I can do anything. I am ready to play, but it is just them saying I am allowed to.”

Persa thought he would play in the season opener at Boston College on Sept. 3, but doctors would not clear him and Persa was on the ­sidelines in street clothes. He still wasn’t cleared for the EIU game, but was dressed.

“I wasn’t surprised and I know they are trying to be safe about it,” Persa said. “In the long run I’d rather miss two or three games than play two and miss the rest of the season.”

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