|« Brown secondary leads defense, linebackers bring on the blitz||TSU receiver/returner makes most of limited opportunities »|
Douglass grad the middle man at Villanova
Bridges settles into leadership role with solid FCS program
When Frederick Douglass High School graduate Devon Bridges decided to join the Villanova University football team, he became part of a college football powerhouse.
In the realm of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision — formerly known as Division I-AA — the Wildcats have been among the elite in recent seasons, winning a national championship in 2009, when Bridges was a freshman.
And now as a 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior, he has ascended to a leadership role as the Wildcats’ starting middle linebacker.
“I was pretty excited,” Bridges said, reflecting on being told by the coaching staff during spring practice that he would be starting. “Being behind Marquis Kirkland for two years really helped me out a lot. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm he played with. It was like he had free rein and great instincts and he drove off of his instincts.”
Following in the footsteps of Kirkland, who was an All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team selection last season, is probably a good idea for a hungry player like Bridges. So far this season, Bridges is adapting just fine.
Though the team is 0-2, he has 10 tackles and two sacks to lead the team. Bridges had previously played at outside linebacker — known in the Wildcats’ system as the “Bandit” — but has found a perfect fit as the team’s “Maverick” linebacker.
“I’m more comfortable in the middle than anything,” he said. “That’s my comfortable position where I could read and run. With the Maverick, it’s more free rein, scrape and get over the top. With the Bandit, I feel there’s a lot more to it. Most plays, you have to read the guard, decide whether the fullback is going to stay or go and so many other things. For the Maverick, it’s either run or pass. It’s just easier.”
During in high school career, there was little question of Bridges’ importance. As a senior in 2008, he had 133 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions and was named to the Gazette-Star All-County First Team Defense.
“Coach [J.C.] Pinkney and the whole Douglass High will forever be close to me,” he said. “I feel that defense of [Douglass assistant coach] Bill Johnson that I’ve been under prepared me great for college. The toughness, the grind, the pain, injury and playing through it. When you get [to college], none of that changes. That animal instinct that they instill in you never leaves.”
While the Football Championship Subdivision isn’t the NCAA’s top level, Bridges said he has found life at Villanova demanding. He said that even on the FCS level, “the speed of the game was totally different,” along with the regimented college football lifestyle, which includes intense practices and weightlifting and waking up at 6:30 a.m. every day to prepare.
And with recent playoff success, expectations are huge around the Wildcats’ program, which went 9-5 last year and won two games in the FCS playoffs before losing 41-31 in the semifinals against Eastern Washington.
“We’re always used to expectations being high,” he said. “But we have a motto that nothing outside of the team matters. The only expectation that we have is of ourselves and our team.”
And the team isn’t so different from the teams battling for spots in bowl games.
“We don’t feel like we’re any different than a Division I team. We have Division I teams on our schedule. I feel like we can compete with them,” he said. “My first year, we actually beat a Division I team. I feel like Division I-AA shouldn’t be thrown out. The intensity, passion for the game is just the same.”
Bridges said that while every college football player dreams of making it to the NFL, being part of a smaller college program gives him a more realistic outlook on the future.
“For some of us, it’s like a dream,” he said. “Most of us have been playing the game since we were 5 or 6, so the pros are always back in the mind. As you get older, you realize that it may not be in arm’s reach anymore. In the back of my mind, I know that if it doesn’t happen, I still have a plan. Even though we do have players that have gone to the next level, most don’t and have to do something different.”
by Terron Hampton, The Gazette