It’s not surprising that Chris Boden won all sorts of awards as Villanova’s quarterback two decades ago, since he’s still the school’s career passing-yardage leader and the only one to throw for more than 10,000 yards.
But that plaque now on a file case in his office.
“I had never even seen that,” Boden said.
It was found in a back hallway behind Villanova’s press box, presented to Boden without fanfare when he returned to the school this year as the new offensive coordinator.
This name still rings familiar to even casual Villanova football fans — but that’s only part of the reason Boden is back calling plays at Villanova Stadium.
Maybe Boden needed to be a Villanova guy for his eclectic resume to rise above others. But it’s his resume as much as his roots that make Boden such an interesting fit.
Junior college head coach. Junior college offensive coordinator, at a startup program in Brooklyn. Arena League assistant coach. Arena League QB. Fordham QB coach.
“I think it brings more to the table,’’ Boden said of his somewhat non-traditional path.
For instance, coaching indoor football.
“The Arena League was an extremely well-coached league, because it’s all basically man-to-man coverage,’’ Boden said, sitting in his office this week ahead of 2-0 Villanova’s Saturday matchup at Bucknell.
“So how you run routes as a receiver, how you false-step things and really try to sell routes, giving them double fakes. Quarterback-wise, it’s all about footwork, and seeing things before they happen.”
He thinks it’s easier to call plays in the outdoor game. The Arena League added a little, say, intensity to the play-calling because of where it stood in the media landscape. Games were televised, but Boden remembers being told that the game window would be a strict three-hour block, and they’d obviously get in all the commercials.
“They would tell the officials, ‘Hey, start the play clock before the play is over,’ ’’ Boden said. “There’d be 15 seconds [left on the play clock] and we’re still jogging back to the line. I’m like, this is insane.‘’
Great training, though. Same for junior college ball, in a different way.
“We got to try kind of whatever we wanted,’’ Boden said. “We would sit in meetings and instead of saying, ‘Oh, no, that won’t work,’ we just said, ‘Let’s just go out there and try it, see how it looks.’ That’s really where I think I grew as a coach. We just kept trying stuff. …
"Usually, the best ideas in football happened by accident. That’s how the zone read happened, how a lot of things happened with the jet motions.”
So if you notice Villanova running plays a bit differently, with power running but no pulling linemen, the schemes go back to JC experiments, siphoned from NFL ideas.
Boden isn’t trying to create a picture of himself as some kind of mad genius. Football is football, he suggested. It’s about the players.
Life has changed in those two decades, and not just because Boden can turn around from his desk and look out the window to the west end zone of the stadium field. In his days, the football complex was scrunched under the bleachers. But that’s not the biggest difference.
“I tell the quarterbacks all the time, you have no idea how lucky you are,’’ Boden said, referring to the two-a-days in full pads he went through, putting on that sweat-soaked ensemble for the second session in full pads.
Boden took over for Sam Venuto, who had been Boden’s play-caller when he was a senior. A sustained run of excellence and consistency.
“We’re still similar — we’re still shotgun, we’re still zone read, we’re still hopefully balanced as far as run and pass,’’ Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said. “But you’ve got a different guy calling it, and whenever you’ve got a different play-caller, it’s going to add some wrinkles.”
Ferrante pointed out that Boden has been creative with personnel. Defenses see two tight ends and might instinctively think run, then Boden flexes out both tight ends, creating a bit of opposing mental confusion before the snap.
Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith said there is trust built in that Boden has done all this himself.
“Just like certain reads,’’ Smith said. “He’ll know when a certain read might look cloudy or not.”
Yes, Boden was a star at Villanova, learning first under offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, now Wake Forest’s head coach. Clawson brought Boden to Fordham when he moved on to be head coach there.
But Boden was no big-time recruit.
“I was probably the easiest signed recruit that Villanova’s ever had,’’ Boden said, explaining that he didn’t have any scholarship offers despite putting up big numbers as a senior at San Clemente High in prep football hotbed Orange County, Calif. Having to wait his turn until his senior year kept him off recruiting radars. College football barely stayed on his own radar.
“I loved playing roller hockey,’’ Boden said, remembering telling his mother that he was going to play in an indoor roller hockey league as a senior instead of playing football. She talked him down from that. (“You’re going back. You’re playing football.”)
So when Villanova lost its top target at QB and offered Boden a scholarship, he remembers telling them, “I’m coming.”
Like, coming on a recruiting visit?
“That, too. But I’m coming.”
That plaque they found, by the way — it was awarded to a I-AA athlete “who overcame personal, athletic or academic adversity to perform in an exemplary manner.”
“There are kids who mature later — physically, emotionally,’’ Boden said. “I think I was one of those kids.”