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Former NFL All-Pro Chris Villarrial Named Head Coach at Saint Francis
Former National Football League All-Pro Offensive Lineman Chris Villarrial has been named the 25th head coach of the Saint Francis University football program, beginning immediately, Director of Athletics Bob Krimmel announced on Sunday.
A press conference, and dinner, to formally introduce and welcome Villarrial will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, in the Stokes-Twyman Room of DeGol Arena in the Maurice Stokes Athletics Center. The press conference will take place as part of pre-game activities for the Red Flash women’s basketball game against in-state rival Duquesne. Members of the media who would like to attend the press conference should contact Sean Fagan at email@example.com, or 814-472-3912 (office) or 724-875-5396 (cell).
“It is with great excitement that Saint Francis University welcomes Chris Villarrial as our new head football coach,” Krimmel said . “It has been obvious since Chris began his tenure with us that he was destined to become a head coach. His passion, knowledge of the game, vision for the future and commitment to Saint Francis impressed the search committee, and all who met with him during the search process. Our players are excited to work with coach Villarrial in his new role, as they chart a new and dynamic future for the Red Flash football program.”
Villarrial, who was Saint Francis’ offensive coordinator under Dave Opfar during the 2009 season, takes charge of a Red Flash football program that finished 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Northeast Conference. A native of Hershey, Pa., Villarrial spent 11 seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman with the Chicago Bears (1996-2004) and the Buffalo Bills (2004-06).
“I knew from the moment I started here that Saint Francis was a perfect fit for me,” said Villarrial, who is a resident of nearby Ebensburg. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to build a strong football program that will bring national honor and prestige to this university. My family and I are very excited to continue to share in the Red Flash tradition.”
In his first season in Loretto, Villarrial designed and implemented a successful West Coast Offense that saw the Red Flash improve from 11.4. ppg in 2008 to 15.6 ppg in 2009, against the toughest schedule in school history. Saint Francis also averaged over 100 rushing yards per game (115.9) after averaging just 70.1 rushing yards per game in 2008.
Villarrial had two players – senior offensive lineman Cody Kekipi (Waimanalo, Hawaii / Punahou) and senior wide receiver Antoine Rivera (Willingboro, N.J. / Willingboro) – named to the all-Northeast Conference first or second team. He also oversaw the development of freshman running back/kick return specialist Kyle Harbridge (Easton, Pa. / Easton Area), who was a finalist for Northeast Conference Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year honors after leading the team in all-purpose yardage (103.9 yards per game), which was good for seventh in the Northeast Conference.
While Villarrial will lose Kekipi, Rivera and fellow all-conference selection Russel Fisher (Kailua, Hawaii / Mid Pac Institute) to graduation, he will return two of the best linebackers in the Northeast Conference. Second team all-Northeast Conference honorees Scott Lewis (South Fork, Pa. / Bishop McCort) and Matthew Parker (Darlington, Pa. / Blackhawk) will be back for their senior seasons as two of the top tacklers in program history.
Also during his first season in Loretto, Villarrial helped the Red Flash to an improved record after a winless season in 2008, and guided the Red Flash to the second-best single-game rushing total in school history, a 427-yard performance in a victory over in-state Northeast Conference rival Duquesne.
Villarrial made an impression on NFL scouts prior by breaking the NFL Combine Bench Press Record, and was then drafted in the fifth round (152nd overall) by current Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt in April of 1996. As a member of the Chicago Bears from 1996-2004, Villarrial played six seasons under head coach Dick Jauron, and was a two-year All-Pro player, a member of the All-Madden Team, and a four-year Pro Bowl alternate. He paved the way for a 1000-yard rusher every season, blocked for Anthony Thomas, who was the NFL Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year in 2001, and was a member of an offensive line that gave up the fewest sacks in the NFL in 2001, when the Bears advanced to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game. He also received the Golden Bear Award, which is given to the rookie who has perfect attendance in the weight room.
Villarrial was one of the most sought out free agents in Buffalo Bills history for head coach Mike Mularkey, and continued his streak of 1,000-yard rushers every season with the Bills. He was a member of an offensive line that gave up the fewest sacks in franchise history. Villarrial, who also played two seasons in Buffalo under coach Jauron, finished his NFL career with 148 starts.
Following his professional career, Villarrial returned to Ebensburg, where he served two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Central Cambria High School football team. He led the team to two district title games, and personally helped 13 players continue their playing careers at the collegiate level, while developing and implementing a successful strength and conditioning program.
Villarrial, who has been active in the community with Special Olympics and cancer research funding, played his collegiate football for head coach Frank Cignetti at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Special Education, with a concentration in rehabilitation. While playing for IUP, Villarrial was a three-year All-American and three-year all-conference player. He played in the 1993 Division II national championship game, and received the Jim Langer Award for Best Lineman in Division II in 1996. Villarrial had his college jersey No. 75 retired on Oct. 28th, 2
He is a 1991 graduate of Hershey High School, where he played for head coach Bob “Gump” May. Hershey retired Villarrial’s high school jersey No. 78 on May 5, 2001.
In addition to his community service thoughout his career in the NFL, Villarrial donated an entire set of brand new weight room equipment to his alma mater, Hershey High School, as well as media equipment, including a projector and editing system. He also donated several pieces of equipment to the Central Cambria High School weight room.
By Saint Francis University Sports Information