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Experts say Villanova recruits may be among the school's best ever

Mark Ferrante understood the last month was going to be hectic. He just didn't foresee how much more swamped extenuating circumstances would make it.

Mark Ferrante understood the last month was going to be hectic. He just didn't foresee how much more swamped extenuating circumstances would make it.

On New Year's Eve, Villanova's new football coach found out he was losing Jake Cox, the program's strength and conditioning assistant, to Baylor. A week later, when Ferrante returned from the national coaches convention, secondary coach/recruiting coordinator Tony Trisciani told him he was leaving to be the defensive coordinator at Elon. Six days after that, defensive coordinator Billy Crocker accepted the same position at Connecticut.

"You read about coaches changing jobs or going to different places," said Ferrante, who is entering his fourth decade on the Main Line as he succeeds the legendary Andy Talley. "You just don't read about it happening at Villanova that much. So it just turned into a super stressful time."

He has since moved one-time defensive coordinator (2000-04) Joe Trainer, who was coaching the defensive line and special teams, back to DC. The other changes will become official shortly.

Ferrante had secured oral commitments from 13 players by mid-December. In the last week and a half, once NCAA rules allowed him to hit the road again, he took two days and drove to see every one. Ferrante put about 1,000 miles on his car going from Connecticut to Virginia to central Pennsylvania and New York. At least his last stop was Syracuse, which is where he's from.

"I didn't realize Dunkin' Donuts is so popular in New England," said Ferrante, referring to his coffee place of choice. "Before my first visit there was one right across the street. By the time I got to Syracuse my brother-in-law had some nice homemade pizza waiting for me. Other than that I don't remember what I had."

If you believe the scouting services, this class is among the best in FCS and Villanova history. Ten are defensive players. Last season, the Wildcats, who went 9-4 and lost in the second round of the playoffs, had one of the country's top defenses. Ferrante said the makeup of this group has more to do with balancing the roster for the future than immediate help or needs. Ten were all-staters.

"I think it looks real solid as far as the people we targeted," Ferrante said. "We have to see what happens once we get them here. For now you can only go by what you feel and what it looks like on paper."

Chances are about half will end up redshirting. The two from Virginia, running back Damone Drew (who almost went to Syracuse) and linebacker Trajan Anderson, are projected as big-timers. That can change, both ways. Defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon wasn't one of those guys when he arrived five years ago. Now he's projected as a high pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

"There is usually going to be one guy who will shock us," said Ferrante. "And probably one guy who doesn't reach his potential. Hopefully there's only one of those. Then, if the rest of them fall somewhere in between you've done pretty well."

In addition to getting Germantown Academy quarterback Kyle McCloskey, they signed Northeast defensive back Jaquan Amos and Imhotep linebacker Amin Black, the first Public Leaguers to end up on the Main Line since the mid-1990s.

Talley is sticking around for another year, in an office just down the hall from Ferrante in the new football building named after Talley. His presence remains very much valued.

"We gave him the opportunity to evaluate these guys, too," Ferrante emphasized. "Why wouldn't we want his opinion? We kind of got the guys we offered first. The heavy lifting came after that. You want to make sure you hang onto them."

Especially when you've got other suddenly pressing matters to address.