Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

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Quick learning curves help freshmen Vitale, Lowry

The learning curves were conquered quickly by Northwestern freshmen Dan Vitale and Dean Lowry.
Just six months after their respective high school graduations, the first-year players already have made increasingly impressive marks with the Gator Bowl-bound Wildcats.
Some major college programs make freshman wait their turn to work their way up a depth chart. Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald said he has no problem calling on first-year players, especially if they are ready and able.
Danny is very gifted athletically, a very bright young man who I thought made a lot of big plays as the season went along. Fitzgerald said. Dean is physically very gifted, hes got great size and had a great quarter academically. As the year went along he was more comfortable in his role and really started to play well.
Vitale and Lowry are among four freshman to crack the lineup and both are expected to play when Northwestern (9-3) meets Mississippi State (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Wildcats are scheduled to leave Evanston for Jacksonville early Wednesday and open several days of training Thursday at Jacksonville University.
A 6-foot-2 tight end from Wheaton, Vitale topped the depth chart at "super back" -- a combination tight end and fullback -- coming out of training camp.
Through 12 games -- including 10 starts -- he was fifth among Northwestern receivers with 21 catches for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Vitale broke out against Michigan State with nine receptions for 110 yards and earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
But in August, he had no great expectations entering preseason Camp Kenosha.
I just went into camp thinking I was going to do everything I could just to get on the field, said Vitale, who won a 2010 state championship as a Tiger running backwide receiver. Its been a very good growing experience, especially starting off with little reps and progressively getting more time and getting the ball thrown to me, and Ive learned a lot.
The intense preseason training helped Vitale prepare, although he admitted there were some major adjustments to make.
The speed of the game (is different), he said. And I never had to block as much. Thats been one of the key aspects of the game this year.
Lowry, a 6-foot-6 reserve defensive lineman from Rockford, appeared in all 12 games. Hes had eight solo tackles and five assists plus a fumble recovery against Vanderbilt and a quarterback sack at Michigan State.
Its been crazy -- a lot of good times but a lot of stressful times trying to balance school and football, Lowry, an all-stater who played on back-to-back unbeaten Rockford Boylan championship teams, said. But now Im feeling real confident going to a bowl game. I have the technique and the coaching has definitely helped me get there. I feel really good.
Last summer, Lowry also didnt figure hed be in line for the role he eventually earned.
Probably not, he said. I took one day at a time as the coaches told me. But I really didnt think Id be at this point yet.
And Lowry said he continues to learn.
Everyones bigger, stronger and faster, he said. A lot of physical teams we played against they kind of pushed me around a little bit, but I learned from that.
A year ago Vitale was on a holiday break from Wheaton Warrenville South and wrapping up Christmas shopping. He already knew he was bound for Northwestern after committing the previous June.
There was nothing to worry about, nothing to focus on except getting ready to come here, Vitale said. Actually I think I was little worried about finals. I think I had them after break.
Lowry, meanwhile, was preparing for a holiday basketball tournament with his Boylan Catholic team.
We had just finished winning a state football championship, Lowry said. It was basketball season and I was sweating a lot, losing a lot of weight.
Fast forward 12 months and both were among three Northwestern players named to the all-Big Ten freshman team. Redshirt freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose also landed on the squad.
Some of his teammates have experienced as many as four bowl games.
Lowry cant wait for his first.
Im just going to embrace it and see how it goes, he said.

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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