It didn't take the 2014 Walter Payton Award to make John Robertson the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision, but adding the trophy to his mantle certainly helps recognize the job that Robertson did all season at Villanova. Sure, the Wildcats put up over 500 yards of offense without him in the quarterfinal match-up with Sam Houston State, and they certainly scored plenty of points (31), but Robertson brings a different element to the offense that they lacked in that game -- specifically on their game-ending drive.
"He did a great job with a lot of really possession receivers; good players, but no real game breakers," coach Andy Talley explained.
Poppy Livers broke off a few big plays, but most of the Wildcats passing success was built on finding receivers with weak or sagging coverage on them, and exploiting it. The 'Cats did a great job of that all season, and it happened more-so with Robertson on the field. With his rushing ability, defenses were never too comfortable to drop back in coverage -- leaving him any room to move would usually result in a first down run by the quarterback.
"If we can put some talent in there with him and give him a couple of guys, you know, that can get to the end zone," Talley opined. "You know, if John [Robertson] had the talent around him that we had in 2009, he'd be really scary."
That 2009 team had some great talent, including receiver Brandyn Harvey, do-everything Matt Szczur and an NFL offensive lineman covering the Blindside. Chris Whitney would scramble, but his style of running wasn't elusive like Robertson's -- quite the contrary in-fact.
Villanova had some work-horses, good possession receivers, and a running back in Kevin Monangai whose running style was reminiscent of a bulldozer. He had the speed to break away if defenders whiffed on their first attempt, but most plays were a hard bang through the hole for 5 yards.
Five yards per attempt keeps the chains moving. There's no real shame in it at all. Jerome Bettis was one of the all-time NFL rushing leaders, but never averaged five-yards-per-attempt in a season. It's impressive, but when Talley talks about getting talent to put around Robertson, he means the type of players who have the ability to change the game anytime they touch the ball; the running back who can embarrass defenders; the receiver who can catch a ball and shake his coverage with regularity.
The Wildcats will see plenty of changes heading into 2015 -- they have 17 seniors on the roster and a new recruiting class coming in. Some freshmen didn't see the field this season and could step into a bigger role next season. Other players like running back Javon White seemingly redshirted this season, but could provide that type of spark next year.
Some of the answer will certainly lay in the 2015 recruiting class, however.
"I can't speak to kids that are coming in, but we've got a couple coming in that can run."
Talley could be referring to a guy like running back Jarrett McClenton, whose game-changing ability carried Archbishop Wood to the PIAA Class AAA football title this season, or D'Andre Pollard, or Bishop Guilfoyle athlete Brandon Chadbourn who seems to have the explosiveness and instincts to run off some big plays over the next few seasons.
There will be changes all over, on offense and defense, and the Wildcats will reset for next season with another chance to make a deep run and maybe win it all. Everything needs to click for the Wildcats in any season to win a title, but with Robertson back, the 'Cats are looking forward to 2015 with more high hopes.