Feb 27, 2013, 10:57 AM EST
Editor’s Note: Over the three weeks following National Signing Day, we will talk with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on the teams that they cover. Each day will be devoted to a different program. Today we talk with Brian Ewart of SB Nation’s VU Hoops about the Villanova Wildcats.
What are your general impressions of this year’s signing class?
It was a small, eight-man class. They really only had eight scholarships to give, which was due to a range of factors. Despite it being just eight guys, they definitely hit on the areas they needed to and brought in a very talented group of players. Not all of them are necessarily going to be able to contribute right away, but the most important thing is that they’ll develop.
Much as you just noted, Wildcats head coach Andy Talley also spoke about the class being small but very strong and fulfilling specific needs. Can you provide a little more insight here?
The first thing in recruiting is to look at your needs not only at the moment, but a year or two ahead. You ideally look for kids to not necessarily start as freshmen, but to contribute as sophomores. So you look at who you’re going to lose after the next season.
This season their big needs were at defensive back and defensive line. They do need some guys who can come in and play right away at defensive back in addition to others who they’ll develop. It’s not necessarily an immediate need at defensive line, but the guys they brought in will develop after a year in the program.
There was a similar case at linebacker a year ago when they had four linebackers coming in to complement all of their starting linebackers. They were looking a year or two down the line to get guys in the pipeline who they could develop to then step in later.
This year’s signing class is comprised of just eight players, easily representing the league’s smallest class. Was this primarily due to its small graduating senior class or were there other factors that played a role in the small size of the group?
The biggest factor was that it was a small graduating class leaving. In addition to that, a number of guys who would have otherwise graduated are going to be redshirt seniors this season. This would include guys like Dan Shirey, who would have probably started at center last year but had a leg injury. So they have a bunch of guys who are using those scholarships as fifth-year players as well as just having a small graduating class.
And while I’m not positive about this, I believe they also gave a scholarship to one of the walk-on players who came in this past season, Kevin Gulyas. He was originally recruited as a scholarship player but didn’t end up signing. I discussed this with Coach Talley prior to the season and was told that there was a chance he could earn a scholarship, and I believe he did. So those kinds of situations also affect the number of freshmen they’re able to bring in.
Is the coaching staff done recruiting or should we anticipate additional guys signing at this point?
Not in terms of scholarship players, but I believe they are still recruiting walk-ons. They recently added a running back out of Wyomissing, Pa., named Justin Causa who’s coming in as a preferred walk-on and will move over to slot receiver. So if they can get other guys like that as preferred walk-ons, it’ll add a bit of depth at certain positions.
And there are six other walk-on recruits who are also confirmed as being committed as well. The signing class of eight is the eight scholarship players, and then in addition to that there will be other players coming in as preferred walk-ons. Like I said, that will add some depth.
You’ve touched on this already, but what particular holes was the coaching staff looking to fill with this year’s signing class and how successful were they in accomplishing this?
When looking at this, defensive back was a very important spot that they needed to fill. They’re going to lose two starters after the 2013 season after losing another two this past season. On top of that, there were some issues with past recruiting classes, like this past season when there was a highly touted cornerback that was supposed to come in but couldn’t get admitted or another who came in as a junior college transfer but has since left the program. So those two defensive backs that they thought they had are no longer with them, and they really needed to build depth there.
They were also looking ahead when it came to defensive linemen. They’re going to lose Rakim Cox and Antoine Lewis, who are both big factors on the defensive line. So bringing in two very talented and highly rated guys here was big. I think Mike Williams out of Maryland can actually play on the inside of the defensive line because he’s a bigger kid, so that could be very important for them.
The other factor is that Villanova has a very deep offensive line going into this season, but three of those starters returning are going to be either fifth-year seniors or finishing out their fourth year of eligibility. So bringing in that one offensive lineman is important so that they can maintain that depth at the position moving forward. This wasn’t as big of a need as the defensive positions, which is why they only took one guy, but that was an important pickup.
At wide receiver, they took Lincoln Collins. It wasn’t a huge need in terms of depth, but after losing guys like Norman White this past season, they needed to make sure they had some athletic guys who could make plays. He’s a guy who’ll now be in the pipeline and can bring some athleticism to the receiving corps.
At first glance, how do you think Nova’s class stacks up to others of years past?
It’s tough to rate a small class because in the past there were classes with two or three times as many recruits. Probably one of the most successful recruiting classes that they’ve had was the class that graduated after the 2010 season, which included Matt Sczcur and Chris Whitney. They were great and had so much success at Nova. The cupboard was left a little bare when that class graduated because no one else had really played behind them; they were that good.
I ultimately think we’ll have to wait and see how good the upcoming junior class is going to be, but I think they may actually be a better recruiting class than the 2010 graduating class. With the class that came in this year, it’s small but all eight have a chance to be starters before they graduate. If that’s the case, then it’ll probably end up being one of the better classes, too. I think it’s very rare that you see a class where every guy ends up starting at some point in his career. I think they all have a chance, though, and it should be interesting to see.
Who in this year’s signing class stands out to you?
First of all, I would have to say the defensive end, Mike Williams. He was originally committed to play for Maryland but had a change of heart. Maryland wanted him to play offense and he really wanted to play on the defensive line, which is how Nova ended up with him. He’s a big kid and is going to be able to step in and be productive. I don’t think he’s going to start, but he’ll certainly get some time right away. That would be a big deal because it doesn’t necessarily happen very often here, especially at his position.
There are also two guys from Florida, Trey Johnson and Wes Smith. Both have lot of speed and it looks like they’re going to be very good players in the secondary. So it’s a matter of if they can adjust to the program and the way the defensive scheme works. I think they’re going to be big factors down the road.
While small, the class is represented by six different states, including just one player from Pennsylvania and others from Florida and Nevada. Is this kind of national pull typical of the program?
Somewhat. Villanova has been recruiting California and Florida for as long as I can remember, so it’s not unusual to see them get kids from either of those states. Nevada is obviously a place where they don’t normally get recruits, and they tend to get more than one from Pennsylvania along with a couple from New Jersey. There are two kids from New York, which is a place that they’ve typically recruited. So they did hit on a lot of the usual stomping grounds, but did well in California and in Florida this year as well.
When it comes to the recruit out of Nevada, Lorenzo Fertitta, he played at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman. They were in the top 10 nationally throughout the year. They have a big support network out there that helped him find the right fit, and he found his way to Villanova. But that was more a function of him playing for a more high-profile team than Nova necessarily looking at every kid in Nevada. He just so happened to be in a spot that made him very visible.
As a university, Villanova is somewhat unique among its CAA Football counterparts in that it’s a smaller private school and is also widely known for its academic reputation. What kind of role does the school’s size and academics play in recruiting at Nova?
I think it’s both a positive and a negative. The plus side is that you often hear recruits say that one of the reasons that they chose Villanova was the academics. They wanted to come and get a good education. There’s a value to the diploma because the vast majority of these kids coming in here are planning on being here to get their degree. It’s not like some of these FBS programs where players stay for three years and then go pro. In the CAA, you’re there for four years and you’re likely going to graduate. So the value of the diploma is great and makes it a great recruiting tool.
It’s also a hindrance because the admissions office sometimes takes a look at some of the kids and applies the same kind of strict policies to football players as they do normal students. In past years there has been a situation where a kid’s admission comes down to the wire and he just doesn’t get in. Sometimes these guys can go to prep school and improve their grades and come back, but they’ll often end up going somewhere else.
But overall, I think it’s been one of the main reasons the program has been so successful. The staff can show the kids that players have had success on the field while also getting an education that will be valued by employers.
Nova has undoubtedly built a winning tradition in recent years, as evidenced its 2009 FCS National Championship and semifinals run the following season. Has the Wildcats’ national title changed people’s expectations for the program over the last several years?
They have absolutely made the expectations that much higher. Villanova has had a good program and has been a winning program since moving to the FCS level. That 2009 title really raised the expectations to where people expect them to be one of the top programs in FCS Football every year. Obviously the 2011 season was a disappointment, but bouncing back this past fall helped keep those expectations pretty high.
More and more you’re now hearing people talking about Villanova Football in the same breath as programs like Appalachian State that are in the top tier of the FCS. So the expectations are definitely higher now than they’ve ever been.
Andy Talley has been a fixture of the program after being at its helm for nearly three decades now. What role does his tenure with the team play in recruiting?
It’s been a big factor in that he’s been there since 1985. The coaching staff is able to offer that stability in the sense that when you’re coming to Villanova, you know you’re playing for Andy Talley. He’s not going anywhere. That’s a comforting thing for a lot of kids because you know from day one who you’re dealing with and who’s in charge. So that’s definitely a factor.
He’s also able to show the legacy of success that he’s had over his tenure – how many times he’s had a winning season, the number of playoff appearances and how far he’s taken teams in the playoffs. Then of course he can talk about having a national championship ring. All of those things are on his resume and not just Villanova’s resume.
So it’s their ability to show the program’s accomplishments over time and the stability he’s offered.
I’ve spoken about this with Coach Talley in the past, but can you speak to the dynamic of Nova having such a strong football program but being generally perceived as a “basketball school?”
The obvious perception stems from basketball having been so high profile, especially since the 1980s when they won the national championship. The fact that they’re in the Big East Conference has been beneficial, too. They’ve been on national television countless times and have averaged many TV appearances every year since the ‘80s.
While the football program isn’t getting that same level of exposure, at the same time the basketball team is very helpful to football because it has helped build the brand of the university. People know who and what Villanova is because of basketball. I think that has to translate to football as well. That “V” logo is the same. It’s just on a helmet instead of on a basketball jersey. It’s the same logo and the same name you’re representing out there.
The Wildcats followed up a tough 2-9 season in 2011 with what many saw as an unexpectedly strong season this past fall that saw the team earn the league’s automatic playoff bid. Do you have a sense of the community’s expectations for the program in 2013?
Coach Talley is setting the expectations as high as possible. He pretty much said at the end of the season that they’re going for a national championship this year. His expectations are as high as they can go, and the football community here would be over the moon if they made it to Frisco for the national championship.
But the expectation is generally that they’ll compete for a CAA Championship and return to the playoffs, where they will hopefully have a chance to play at home and win a few games in the playoffs in 2013. This past year, having to go on the road to Stony Brook was tough and was disappointing to people who watched what Villanova did in terms of turning things around this past season.
So the expectations now are to improve on last season and to have that chance to stay at home and win some games in the playoffs this season.
I know it’s early, but given your insight into the program, what can we anticipate from the Wildcats this fall?
One of the biggest things for Villanova is that they need to get stronger in the trenches when it comes to both the offensive and defensive lines. Getting stronger has been one of the trends at Villanova though in that they have a very high quality offseason training program.
Last year they had some trouble with teams that were bigger than them. This was the case with Richmond and their struggles with Towson and then with Stony Brook in the playoffs. So something I’m sure we’ll see in the offseason is that they’ll continue to improve in the strength and conditioning area.
They also have a lot of seasoned talent in the skill positions in terms of who’s returning offensively. When it comes to the offense, pretty much everybody but Norman White returns. And I don’t think they’ll take a step back but a step forward on offense this season because of their experience.
On defense, I think it’s only slightly more in question because there are some guys who aren’t going to be back. So they’ll have to fill in the depth chart where necessary, and we’ll have to wait and see there. But again, they’re bringing most players back on defense as well.
We should see some improvement on the whole, though, and I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable that they’ll be in the playoff picture again. The fact that John Robertson will be back at quarterback is huge, too. He got better over the course of his rookie season, which is a big factor in how he will likely continue to improve in the offseason preparing to be the starter once again.