THE TOUGHEST obstacle Villanova quarterback John Robertson faced while preparing for Monday night's 26th annual FCS Awards Banquet was finding something to wear. Since he didn't own a suit, it meant a trip to the department store. So he enlisted the help of teammate Earnest Pettway. The only problem with that was, Pettway isn't exactly known for his wardrobe.
"It's actually kind of funny," Robertson said. "I took the kid who's rated like the worst dresser on the team. But he was willing to go with me. I was going to ask Kevin Monangai, who's pretty stylish, but he's been swamped with homework and stuff. But it worked out. Went with just basic black, kind of understated."
In other words, the exact opposite of his play this season. Robertson became the second recipient of the Jerry Rice Award, which was presented to him at the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel by the greatest wide receiver ever, as the outstanding freshman. Robertson received 56 of 145 first-place votes and finished with 412 points to beat out Northern Iowa QB Sawyer Kollmorgen.
"Getting to meet Jerry Rice was awesome," said Robertson, who, after redshirting in 2011 accounted for nearly 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns during the regular season as the Wildcats produced the biggest turnaround by going from 2-9 to 8-3 and getting back to the playoffs after being picked to finish eighth in the always-competitive CAA. "I was just looking to come away with something with his name on it."
For the first time, the event, which is hosted by the suburban Philadelphia-based Sports Network, was held here. Villanova coach Andy Talley finished as runner-up for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, which he won 15 years ago. But he did get to hand the award out to North Dakota State's Craig Bohl.
Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinicke got the Walter Payton award as the outstanding offensive player. It was presented by Villanova's Brian Finneran, the 1997 winner. Heinicke is the first sophomore to win since 1999. ODU is moving up to FBS next year.
The Buck Buchanan award for outstanding defensive player went to Montana State defensive end Caleb Schreibeis.
"It's just good to be recognized for all the hard work that we as a team put into the season," said Robertson. "Without all the other guys, I would never have been able to do this. I'm a part of something that we're in together."
He wasn't even the starter going into the opener. But his effort off the bench in a loss to Temple changed that. And he never looked back. Neither did the Wildcats, who via a tiebreaker earned the CAA's automatic bid to the tournament, where they lost in the first round at Stony Brook, which joins the league in 2013.
"The only thing I was thinking about at the start of the season was getting on the field and helping the team win," Robertson said. "We thought we could be better than most people thought. Next year we want to do even more. We're already looking forward to the challenge. That's why you play, to compete and be the best you can."
This season, no first-year player did it any better.