Signing day came and went and Villanova added a 17 scholarship athletes to the roster for the 2012 football season. Last year's signing class had to come in and compete immediately because the team lost so much talent after the 2010 semi-final run. That pressure to be ready immediately will not be felt by this class. If freshmen work their way into the rotation or to the top of the depth charts, that would be a welcome surprise, but these players will have time to develop.
"On the 1-A level, you can take 20-25 guys and usually you have enough numbers to fill in 6 or 7 o-line guys who can play, 3 running backs that can play," head coach Andy Talley explained. "Whereas, with us, we’re stuck looking at the positional aspect of it, you know, and then say, ‘wow, we’re thin, we’re going to graduate a few kids.'
"In I-AA recruiting, the thing that you’re always trying to do is cover your positional integrity. So, what are your needs from year to year? Its really hard to balance your class."
For the 2012 recruiting class, Villanova looked at their depth chart and needed to add talent at linebacker, a position they were not very deep or experienced at last year. They ultimately recruited four linebackers, two of them rated 3-stars.
"We’re really thin at linebacker, so we ended up taking four linebackers, and we wanted to get a little bigger, so the kids we brought in are a little bigger — you know, 6-3, 230, sort of ready-made guys," Talley said.
Corey Majors might have been the headline recruit of last year's class before heading off to prep school for a year of academic seasoning. He is now, undoubtedly, the headliner of the 2012 class.
"I think the guy we’re really excited about is Corey Majors," Talley stated, "and you know Corey was a Big 33 player last year at Neshaminy. He just wasn’t quite ready academically, so he went to Worcester academy just so he would be in a little better shape academically in terms of handling the work.
"He’s a ready-made guy and we thought he could come in last year and help us. So, I think of the group, he probably has the best chance of helping us early."
When signing day came and went last February and Majors was headed to Worcester Academy, some might have wondered if the highly-recruited star might have looked to other offers. Majors was one of 7 kids who signed an NLI at that school on February 1st, almost all to division-1 schools — there were plenty of opportunities to explore other options.
"You know, we never did [have doubts]," Talley said. "Corey was true-blue, this is where he wanted to be from day-one. This was the school he wanted to play for. We helped him with the transition to Worcester Academy, we had contacts there and steered him that way.
"In hindsight now, he’s really happy that he went to a place where they stressed academics over football and gave him a good platform and a good foundation to survive.
"He’s one of 10 kids at home, and so, … it was really important for him to concentrate on getting himself right academically, and he never wavered. Never."
Majors isn't the only star linebacker coming to Villanova, however. The 'Cats also signed Austin Calitro, T.J. White and Don Cherry for next season. Calitro was another player who Talley thought could earn himself some opportunities right away. More long-term, however, the coaching staff seems very high on White.
"The linebacker situation worked out nicely for us.
"We’re pretty excited about T.J. White, you know his dad played here for me, he was a captain. Anytime you get a kid from a Villanova football family it’s always great because he kind of grew up with Villanova football as a kid and has always wanted to play here.
"T.J. has to put a little weight on, because he plays basketball in the offseason as a second sport, so he’s constantly running after football season season, but I think, T.J., when he hits that 225-230 . . . when you take a look at Dillon Lucas, he played this season at 210 pounds, barely, soaking wet, and he was Rookie Player of the Year in the ECAC and Freshman Player of the Year in the CAA, but a lot of times he got run over.
Lucas played well despite being undersized, but White will have an opportunity to get up to playing-weight before being foisted into a major role with the team. Lucas was also injured and had shoulder surgery in the off-season that will keep him out of the weight room, but Talley remains confident he will play at 230-pounds next year.
Villanova also added two defensive-linemen, an area that had been an area of strength in recent years. Neither Tanoh Kpassagnon nor Patrick McGown is likely to come in and make an immediate impact at Villanova, but both project to help the team in the future.
"The two defensive ends are bigger kids. Tanoh Kpassagnon, he’s 6-7 and he’s really an outstanding basketball player and his size, you know his size, he’s 255 right now and he’s thin. You know, he can really be a tremendous player as time goes on. Right now he’s a better basketball player than a football player, but he chose to play college football."
Villanova also had a big need for depth in the secondary this year. Though only one corner or safety was a senior in 2011, the 3-3-5 defense demands depth in the secondary. The coaching staff wanted to build up some young talent to develop at those positions to ensure they would be set for the future.
"We had to sure up some young kids on the secondary, so Shayne Jones, C.J. Logan, Cameron McCurry, there are three kids that we liked a lot," Talley noted. "I don’t think they are kids that can come in and play right away, but you teach the kid how to play the secondary in college — usually you put the best kids on offense in high school, so all of these kids were really good offensive players."
In addition to the three freshmen coming in as longer-term projects, Talley's program also took on a free safety from Nassau Community College in New York, a rare junior college recruit. Marc Mauro came to Villanova in January for the spring semester and will be able to participate in Spring practices, starting next month.
After high school, Mauro spent a season at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, where he was the roommate of current Villanova linebacker Joey Harmon. He went from there to NCC because he wasn't offered the opportunities he was hoping for. He has three years of eligibility left after playing this fall at a junior college.
"Its really an interesting deal," Talley explained about Mauro's addition. "Dave Sollazzo, who is no longer with us — unfortunately Dave went to UMass — Dave had recruited Marc when he was at Maryland. He really liked him, but unfortunately Maryland didn’t go out on him and then the kid ended up going to prep school where he was New England player of the year.
"When he came out, he was still looking for a division-one offer, he had been offered out of high school at Hofstra, but Hofstra dropped football.
Sollazzo had kept in touch with Mauro and asked the Villanova staff to take a look at him. Academics were something he was interested in for his next move out of the JuCo, and Villanova was a great fit for him.
"It is unusual that we would take a junior college guy, because we don’t do that, but there was some special stuff going on with this one."
Villanova added three running backs on signing day, Aaron Wells and Javon White are traditional tailback types while Gary Underwood, who will convert from quarterback, is viewed as more of an H-back.
"We have some real great speed in Aaron Wells and Javon White," the coach boasted. "Those two kids came to our one-day camps and both ran 4.4, and pretty legit too, because every time they ran it was 4.4, it wasn’t 4.5, it was always right on the button — 4.4, 4.41. They’re guys that have breakaway speed and we’re really excited to get some speed in the running back spot.
Villanova had three freshmen running backs last season and at times it was difficult getting them all enough carries, especially with a fourth tailback in senior Lawrence Doss also in the mix. In order to find ways to work them all in, Jamal Abdur-Rahman was moved to slot receiver, where he will stay this season.
"We’re going to keep him at slot, but use him like we did against Delaware and slip him in the backfield and run it from there," Talley said. "He’s a guy you want to get the ball to as many times as you can, I would say he’s a 12-14 touch guy along with a couple kick returns, he’s probably at 15-18 touches-a-game, because he’s really an explosion waiting to happen, very fast, tremendous football player."
Talley ideally likes to have at least three tailbacks active on his depth chart, however, and White and Wells will compete to back up Austin Medley and Kevin Monangai and get a few carries, or a lot of carries if there is an injury. The other freshman will most-likely redshirt in 2012.
"The tailbacks though, they get hurt quick, I’ll tell you, and it is important to have three of them that can play. If they stay healthy then you end up with not enough footballs to go around."
Underwood is a project who would be an H-back for Villanova, a position that is essentially a cross between fullback and tight end.
"Gary Underwood is another kid, now he’s a bigger back, he’s 6-1 and a half almost 6-2 and 210, he’s being considered as an H-back, a guy that can do some blocking for us and catch the ball out of the backfield.
"We’re going to try to train to be more of a Ransford Quarry/Tony Canci type of guy."
Villanova returns all five offensive line starters for 2012, so it isn't likely that any freshmen will have an immediate role on the team. However, with star center Dan Shirey and guard Ted Bucci going into their senior seasons, there is a need for future talent and depth on the offensive line.
"O-line was another area where we needed some numbers and the range goes from 6-6 to 6-2. I think Jake Prus and Nico D’Angelo are two of the bigger kids along with Brad Seaton. Brad is 6-7, legitimate 6-7, you know he’s undersized at 250, but you know he could be 300 pounds in a heartbeat.
"The guy who is a little more ready-made is Jon Green, he’s 280 right now. All four of those guys, I think, are going to come in and back-up, learn the system and give us depth because we return the whole offensive line next year. We have 21 starters back."
Villanova's offensive line played undersized and under-experienced last season and the Wildcats are hoping that they won't have to resort to playing any freshmen again this season, but having depth is always important on the offensive line. Villanova didn't have as much of that depth as they were hoping for.
"The numbers were important on offensive line."
Villanova has an experienced corps of receivers coming back, with future-pro Norman White, Joe Price, Abdur-Rahman and likely Dorian Wells all available, there isn't much space for additional receivers to come in. There was just one scholarship available for the position and Mike Burke IV was the player who came in to take it.
"Mike is kind of a possession receiver, he’s 6-3, kind of like what we have with Joe Price. A lot like Joe, tall kid, good hands, good athlete, plays basketball."
Burke wasn't the only receiver who will be coming to the Main Line in the fall, however, Jacob Gribb decided to commit to Villanova a day after signing day and All-State receiver Kevin Gulyas turned down scholarship offers from other FCS schools, most notably William & Mary, to attend Villanova as a preferred walk-on.
Gulyas will play on the Pennsylvania Big 33 team — a huge honor reserved for the best senior football players from Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"Kevin is a tremendous football player," Talley claimed. "I think he had 120 catches this year at Allentown Central Catholic.
"But he was not available to us in recruiting because Mike Burke committed to us really early, he committed to us in June. So we only had one scholarship. And then Kevin went out and had this gangbuster senior year. In the end, we found out that he was still interested in Villanova. So he’s coming as a preferred and we’re very excited to have him. He’s going to be a great addition to our program and he’s going to give some of our guys a challenge for sure."
Gulyas was also a star lacrosse player at ACC, but despite his talent in that sport, he won't be picking up a lacrosse stick in the spring. His goal is to earn a place on the Villanova football team and to earn a football scholarship for the 2013 season.
"I have not talked to him about that [playing lacrosse], but frankly, if you’re coming to Villanova and trying to play at this level, then you could not play lacrosse," Talley explained. "Now, we’ve had baseball players, as you know, but its easier in baseball than it is in Lacrosse.
"For him to be skilled enough and learn to play in our system, he would need spring practice. Lacrosse is pretty much all year round the way those guys play now and the level of lacrosse we play now. And not once in the recruiting did he ever mention lacrosse to us."
The other new face at wide receiver will be a familiar one. Dustin Thomas will move to wide receiver in order to have more opportunities to get on the field. Thomas isn't making a complete move, however, and he will remain on the quarterback depth chart as a back-up option.
"We felt that we had pretty-much evaluated Dustin, so we approached him and said, ‘look, how about you go over to wideout, we’ll keep your hand in at quarterback but maybe your best bet is as a wide receiver with us.’
"Dustin has really good speed and we really feel that Chris Polony is going to come on, and we have another redshirt freshman by the name of John Robertson who was really more highly-touted coming in than Chris. John got in here and was just not really ready, Chris had more maturity and John was really more effervescent, excitable and he needed to settle down."
Talley believes that Robertson will be ready to play this season if needed, though Thomas would be available to step in if injuries dictated it. Thomas' days of throwing footballs aren't over, however.
"We’re still going to give him snaps at quarterback, in case one of those guys gets hurt and we’ll do things with him in the passing game as well, from the flanker spot.
Villanova's 2012 class is another strong one for the FCS and for the CAA. The 'Cats have filled out their depth chart with players who can provide valuable depth and develop into the starters of tomorrow. Villanova went into the 2011 season without much experience on the roster and this class is designed as much to prevent that from happening in the future as it was about providing an immediate impact.
Head coach Andy Talley was pleased with his signing class. Unlike previous years where players were often taken away by FBS programs late in the process, every player Villanova was expecting to sign a letter of intent this year faxed one in.