A lot has changed for Villanova graduate Raymond Ventrone since September.

Back then, the strong safety was on the New York Jets' practice squad. But when he was released days after the season started, he wondered if another team would take a chance on him.

"I knew I could make a roster," Ventrone said. "I needed to catch a break. I think I caught a pretty good one."

Now, Ventrone is with the New England Patriots and preparing to play in the Super Bowl with a chance to be a part of the first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

"It's just been a great opportunity here," he said. "I was fortunate, and I just want to take advantage of my opportunity."

This marks Ventrone's second opportunity with the Patriots. He first signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and spent that season on the practice squad.

The next spring, he played for the Cologne Centurions, of NFL Europe, before suffering a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss the 2006 season.

"When the injury happened, I tried to stay as positive as I could," said Ventrone, 25. "I knew a negative attitude wasn't going to get me anywhere. I just tried to get better as fast as I could. I'm a strong believer that everything happens for a reason."

Once healthy, Ventrone wasn't out of work for long. He signed with the Jets, where the 5-10, 200-pounder played on special teams this preseason. But Ventrone didn't make the final cut with the Jets, and he eventually signed with the Patriots on Sept. 18.

He was activated to the 53-man roster twice during the regular season. He made his NFL debut Nov. 4 at Indianapolis, playing on special teams during the Patriots' come-from-behind win over the Colts. He played on special teams in the season-ending victory over the Giants on Dec. 29. Ventrone also saw action in the AFC title game against the Chargers.

All the while, Ventrone has seen firsthand the Patriots' pursuit of perfection.

"It's been special," he said. "We've really handled it like a business, as far as taking it one game at a time. In doing that, it's brought us to this point."

The Patriots left for the Arizona yesterday. Ventrone, who is from Pittsburgh, will be joined by several family members later this week. Included in that group will be his brother Ross, a defensive back for the Wildcats.

"We're all really excited, me and my whole family," Ross Ventrone said. "Coming from Villanova, it makes it that much harder to make it to the NFL. To do what he's doing is just awesome. It's a tremendous thing to witness for my brother."

One person watching from Philadelphia will be Wildcats coach Andy Talley, who said he still speaks regularly with Raymond Ventrone, a 4-year starter from 2001 to '04.

Ventrone has a chance to be the third 'Nova player to win a Super Bowl ring, joining Mike Siani (1976) and Howie Long (1983), who both won titles with the Raiders.

"It just goes to show you can find good football players anywhere," Talley said. "It's just a tremendous credit to [Raymond] because he wasn't in the so-called big time. He had a dream and he worked extremely hard." *