Each day up until Christmas Eve, we'll be breaking down who Villanova football is losing, bringing back, and bringing in at each position.
(walk-ons in italics)
Outgoing: Pat Williams
Returning: Jordan Hunter, Michael Williams, Eric Drains, Ricky Young
Incoming: Bryan White
The Wildcats are losing a star with Pat Williams graduating this Spring. The Florida-native came to the Main Line and saw action by the end of his Freshman season. The 'Cats relied on the big bodied nose tackle to handle two gaps and anchor the 3-3-5 defensive scheme that the coaching staff prefers to run. Turned into a starter as a junior, Williams helped a line that was struggling against the run to turn things around and get stops against tough CAA offenses.
The Wildcats will return a deep group that should include three freshman and an upper-classman. Jordan Hunter is the only upper-classman with eligibility to return next season after redshirting in 2012. He will graduate this May, but at 6-2, 324-pounds, Hunter has always had the size and strength to be a factor in the middle of the defensive line. The coaching staff could opt to bring him back for his fifth season to provide a veteran presence. He was a key backup in the last two seasons.
If not, they will return three other big bodies who could slide over to the tackle spot next season. True freshmen Eric Drains and Ricky Young both appeared on the two-deep this season at defensive end, but at 6-4, 309-lbs and 6-2, 292-lbs respectively, they have the size to believably move over to tackle. Next up, however, could be redshirt freshman Michael Williams, who checks in at 6-4, 280-lbs. Williams was a star at Archbishop Spalding High School in Maryland and will likely see an increased role on the team this season, wherever he plays.
Talley is bringing in a Villanova legacy to help out on the defensive line as well. West Chester Henderson lineman Bryan White committed to Villanova back in June, his brother T.J. is a linebacker for the Wildcats (more on him tomorrow) and their father Ted played under Talley in the 1985-87 season as well. The younger White brother played both sides of the ball at W.C. Henderson, and the All-Southeaster Pennsylvania pick will be waiting to see how things shake up with the other young linemen on the depth chart.
(walk-ons in italics)
Outgoing: Morgan Craig
Returning: Noble Ajakaiye, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Thomas Plonski, Reggie Paris, Austin Calitro (?), Fran Walsh
Villanova will lose just one player at defensive end, the converted tight end Morgan Craig. Craig had played both ways in high school, but had been earmarked for offense at Villanova. With the emergence of Earnest Pettway as a receiver, however, Craig had been developed into more of a blocking tight end. When injuries arose this season, the Wildcats coaches moved him to the defensive side to help him earn more playing time and to provide depth on the edges.
Tanoh Kpassagnon is perhaps the returning player with the most upside. The athletic defensive end has the potential to turn into a truly special player for Villanova as his skill at defensive end improves. Along with junior Noble Ajakaiye and redshirt junior Reggie Paris (who retains a season of eligibility), Kpassagnon is one of the Wildcats' returning starters at the position, losing the job when he spent a few weeks sitting out with an injury. Austin Calitro is also back after spending the early part of 2014 flitting between the defensive line and linebacker corps -- and performing admirably at both positions.
The Wildcats currently have no recruits slated for defensive end, but they could deploy some of the nose tackles in the program at the end spots as-needed, or offer more playing time for redshirt freshman Thomas Plonski, who was only lightly used this season.