Pat Fitzgerald gets questions daily about his offensive line: who’s starting here, who’s starting there, will inexperience be a factor. Same questions and the same answer: it’s too early to tell. But there’s one piece of the offensive line that is not in question: Brandon Vitabile will be the starting center.
“He probably knows the offense better than (offensive line coach Adam Cushing),” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He’s a bright guy. He knows the offense so well he can come off and give us great information on the boundary.”
The junior has started every game at center since 2011 after redshirting his freshman year. He has been the staple of the offensive line since then, but he came in with high expectation and big shoes to fill.
The previous center, Ben Burkett, started 39 consecutive games at center before being moved to right guard for his senior season. So far, Vitabile has been able to step in without any noticeably diminished play at the center spot.
“You just look at the history of our center position. That’s a great story in and of itself,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s just another kind of centerpiece of the history of our offensive line tradition. He embraces that role, it’s really important to him, and he does a terrific job working with the guys around him.”
While the center is brains of the offensive line, Vitabile hasn’t always embraced the leadership role that many people associate with the position.
“When he first got here, he’s such a respectful guy, he let the older guys lead,” Fitzgerald said. “Even though he was starting and playing, he didn’t assert his will.”
Now, whether through natural progression or necessity, he’s begun to embrace the leadership role, though he still leads more through actions than words. The most important part of his leadership, Fitzgerald said, is that he stays accountable for his own play while also trying to help those around him.
“He doesn’t feel like he’s a finished product,” Fitzgerald said, “and that’s probably the best thing about him because he works diligently to get better. That’s probably what’s so special about him.”