BALTIMORE — Things can only get better for Villanova football after a 2-9 finish in 2011. In what was already written off as a rebuilding year, nagging injuries were no help for the inexperienced Wildcats, who, only 2 years removed from an FCS national championship in 2009, found themselves starting from square one.
They are convinced square two will be better.
Villanova head coach Andy Talley addressed the media Wednesday, joined by players and coaches from each of the 11 members of the Colonial Athletic Association at the league's annual football media day. Talley, entering his 28th season at the helm of the Wildcats, brimmed with optimism at the start of a new campaign, confident that last season's wounds have been healed in the simplest way — time.
"It's really hard in our league to stay at the highest level year in and year out," Talley said. "As you saw, we slipped last year because all of those great older players left and we had all these young guys that weren't quite ready. Right now, we have a nucleus of older players that can hold these young guys in and young players on the rise. We're bigger, faster and stronger now. It was baptism by fire."
The team is still young, but, with 20 starters returning, experience will be less of a concern. There will be fewer question marks at key positions heading into this season, especially quarterback, where Chris Polony will start. Polony, a sophomore, was one of three quarterbacks who saw action for the Wildcats last year. All thoughts of a controversy were put to rest after Christian Cullicerto graduated and Talley decided this offseason to move Dustin Thomas to wide receiver. Thomas started at QB for the 2011 opener and played in six games.
"He struggled at quarterback. He came out of the box and got hurt early, and when he came back, he struggled," Talley said. "I just felt like Chris Polony was our future, but Dustin was so athletic, so we thought we could turn him into a wide receiver, and he did a great job in the spring.
"He's going to be a complementary receiver and will be in the mix, hopefully will be on some special teams, and, with his arm, we can do some interesting things with him."
Time allows for healing not only the emotional scars of a losing season, but also the physical scars of devastating injuries. Wide receiver Norman White, who missed all of last season with a lisfranc injury of his left foot, will look to return to form this year after being named first-team all-CAA as a junior. After a long year of rehab, White was named a preseason second-team All-America by The Sports Network entering the 2012 campaign.
"He's our big play player, and that's something we lacked last year when he went down," Talley said. "When we needed to go to somebody for a big play, Norm wasn't there. So it's great to have him back."
Talley remains optimistic that this season will show a marked improvement for Villanova, though it seems the conference's other coaches and media relations directors did not share Tanney's sentiment. Preseason rankings and awards were released at CAA football media day, with the Wildcats predicted to finish eighth. Only two Villanova players, center Dan Shirey and defensive lineman Antoine Lewis, were named to the preseason all-conference team.