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A big change for Villanova football team one year later
Around this time last year, the Villanova football team went into preseason camp as the defending national champion in the Football Championship Subdivision, and with a senior class poised to add to its accomplishments.
But when the Wildcats began preparations for the 2011 season Thursday, all-American offensive tackle Ben Ijalana was not in the room. Neither was do-it-all star Matt Szczur. And three other all-Colonial Athletic Association first-teamers in linebackers Terence Thomas and Marquis Kirkland, and offensive guard Brant Clouser also have moved on.
In addition, quarterback Chris Whitney and safety Fred Maldonado, who were second-team all-league, will have to be replaced, as will third-team selections Thomas Weaver (defensive lineman), John Dempsey (safety), and Aaron Ball (running back).
That group was among the seniors who led ‘Nova to a 40-13 record and three postseason appearances over their four years. Ijalana was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the NFL draft.
Villanova was picked to finish seventh in the 11-team CAA. Last fall, a 41-31 playoff loss at Eastern Washington ended the Wildcats’ bid for a second straight berth in the national title game. They had finished tied for third in the CAA.
“The last two years, we’ve been really an awesome team,” said Wildcats coach Andy Talley, the architect of the program who enters his 27th season with a 188-107-1 record at the school.
“In ‘09, we knew we could win it all. Now, what we have is the legacy those guys instilled in this program. This year, we’ll have to steady the ship. We have a lot of youth.”
Talley, whose 2010 team went 9-5 and reached the FCS semifinals for the second straight season despite the absence of the injured Szczur for six regular-season games, has nine starters and 23 letter winners returning.
In that group are first-team all-CAA wide receiver Norman White, second-team punter Dominic Scarnecchia, and third-teamers Dan Shirey (center), Antoine Lewis (defensive tackle), and James Pitts (defensive back). White, Shirey, Lewis, and Pitts are preseason first-team choices this year.
Of course, the main issue facing ‘Nova is the absence of Whitney. The Wildcats were 34-10 with him behind center over four seasons, and Whitney finished fourth on Villanova’s career list in passing yards (6,241) and rushing yards (2,450).
By Kevin Tatum, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER