About two weeks ago, Brandon Vitabile left New Jersey, flew to the Midwest and got a close look at Michigan State University and its ascending football program. He spoke to coaches and players, toured the campus and gained a greater appreciation of the land of Spartans.
"It was nice, everyone was real nice. The facilities are incredible," Vitabile told Spartan Nation. "State of the art."
The facilities, though, took a back seat to the football coaches, staff and players. The center prospect from Edison, N.J., who measures close to 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, especially notes the expertise the MSU staff brings to the table.
"Coach (Dan) Roushar, the O-line coach, has a lot of experience and is very good at what he does," Vitabile said. "They're going in the right direction under Coach Dantonio over the last couple years. â€¦ And all of the coaches are really nice people, and they donâ€™t apply pressure, which is nice."
Vitabile did miss out on one introduction, though, but he hopes to amend the situation at a later date.
"I didnâ€™t get to meet Coach Mannie, but that's okay," he said, explaining how well traveled the reputation of MSU's strength and conditioning program is under Coordinator Ken Mannie. "One of my basketball coaches told me about him â€” his son went to Michigan State â€” that he was one of the best trainers in the country, you know, and internationally for what he does."
Even deep within the east coast, the Michigan State name carries some weight, for a number of reasons.
"They have a lot of tradition they are trying to get back to," Vitabile said, explaining the benefits a prospect sees when looking at MSU. "And to play in front of 75,000 people every week, and have that support, and get the notoriety you want if you want to go to the next level."
That last part, about developing professionals, appeals to Vitabile, who has ambitions as big as the sky. He reiterates the benefits MSU brings to the table: "Huge school, lots of majors and definitely a chance to go pro through Michigan State."
To reach such levels, Vitabile knows the road is paved with hard work, and he's already paying his dues.
"I work out six days a week â€” I lift six days a week, and I speed train and work on my own," Vitabile said. "I know what's going on."
A natural addition to Vitabile's repertoire as a center is long snapping.
"I've been working on it in the offseason because I realized you become more valuable to a college if you can do that," he said. Is it hard to pick up and master a skill like long snapping? "It's just something that takes practice."
Along with MSU, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Syracuse have offers on the table. The recruiting process is a long haul, Vitabile says, and it takes time to get a feel for the lay of the land.
"I'm trying to narrow it down," he said, but he admits it's a difficult process. Future fields of study may include physical therapy or some sort of business degree, but Vitabile says that will be determined with more certitude later.
For now, Vitabile has a final year of high school ball to enjoy. By the second week of August, he will be leading his Bishop Ahrs team on the practice fields, and he's focused on running the table this season.
"We should be good, we have a lot of seniors coming back. I donâ€™t think we should lose a game in the regular season," he said. "We have the talent to go far in the playoffs."
A captain who has been on varsity since his frosh campaign, Vitabile is a seasoned veteran among his peers and knows he has an important role to play on the team. And when it comes to leadership, Vitabile is confident his approach to being a member of the team is honest, earnest and balanced.
"Doing things the right way, putting in the necessary work, and play the right way," Vitabile said, explaining his idea of an ideal captain and teammate. "Donâ€™t cheat or get a lot of penalties, donâ€™t do stuff just to get by. But it's important to have fun while you're playing, too, you canâ€™t loose sight of the fact that it's a game, donâ€™t let it become a job. I try to keep it fun, keep my teammates up, the way it should be."