'Nova eager to surprise after dismal season
VILLANOVA, Pa. – For the Villanova football team, preseason training camp only began less than 10 days ago. But longtime head coach Andy Talley had already seen enough to deliver a message during Monday’s media day.
That message: Now we’re all grown up.
“Last year, I think in some of the games early in the season, it was the men against the boys,” Talley said to a throng of reporters at Villanova Stadium. “And I feel like the boys have become men now.”
The 2011 season was an uncharacteristically dismal one for Talley and the then-inexperienced Wildcats, who sputtered to a 2-9 record just two years removed from capturing an FCS national championship.
Those outside the program don’t expect Villanova to make a big leap in 2012, as the ’Cats were picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll. But with 20 starters returning, the Wildcats believe internally that they can reclaim their status as a national power.
“I’m glad everyone’s sleeping on us because that means they’re not going to prepare as well as they should,” said nose guard Antoine Lewis, a preseason all-CAA first team selection. “We’ve got a lot of weapons so we’re going to utilize that to our advantage. If people are sleeping on us, we’ve got a wake-up call for everyone.”
For the ’Cats, the first week of preseason camp has certainly been filled with good vibes and healthy optimism.
It’s a lot different from their attitude last year as the losses and the disappointment mounted side by side.
“Everyone’s looking real good,” quarterback Chris Polony said. “We’ve very upbeat – a lot more upbeat than last year, I think. ... Last year, after our first couple of games when we lost a couple of bad ones, everyone’s attitude kind of went downhill. This year we’re definitely more upbeat.”
While the ’Cats still have a lot of work to do in camp leading up to their season opener against city rival Temple in the Mayor’s Cup on Aug. 31, they do have a few reasons to be upbeat.
One of those reasons is Polony, who has already been tabbed as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. That should help alleviate some of the problems of 2011 when the ’Cats tried three different players at QB before Polony emerged as their best option toward the end of the season.
Now, like everyone, the sophomore signal-caller is a year older and ready to help bury the pain and frustration of the 2011 campaign beneath piles of better memories and victories.
“Coach Talley has brought it up a couple of times that we were picked eighth [in the league],” Polony said. “That’s definitely a motivating factor for us because we know how good we can be and how good teams in the past have been. So we’re looking to match the expectation that Villanova football has.”
Interestingly enough, Dustin Thomas, who started the 2011 season at quarterback, has been moved to wide receiver, while redshirt freshman John Robertson will back up Polony at QB.
Thomas has never before played wide receiver but he said he’s doing well with it so far in camp.
“It’s just learning the small things, like getting off a jam,” he said. “I think spring ball helped me with that stuff. Naturally, I have the speed to do it and I’ve always had hands. It’s getting the small basic things done that you learn growing up as a receiver.”
For Thomas, preseason camp would have already been challenging enough without having to learn a new position. But together with his teammates, he’s just trying to fight through the August heat and get better, one day at a time.
“At times, you get tired with two-a-days and meetings,” he admitted. “But I think everyone’s attitude keeps people pretty positive. It’s been an all-around good team experience.”
It may be hot out but for Polony it’s all about “feeling football in the air.” And with that feeling comes the chance that every team coming off a bad season relishes: a fresh start.
“A lot of people are writing us off this year,” the Villanova quarterback said. “I know we can be good but sometimes that’s not enough. So we’ve got to go out and prove some people wrong and win some games.”Dave Zeitlin covers college sports for CSNPhilly.com. Email him at email@example.com.