Villanova QB can take the heat
John Robertson doesn't mind the pressure of being the CAA Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
BALTIMORE - Pressure? Yo, when you're the quarterback for Villanova, which has always been known for moving the football, hefty expectations are pretty much part of the deal.
To the surprise of nobody, fourth-year Wildcat junior John Robertson was named the Colonial Athletic Association's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year at the annual CAA media day at M&T Bank Stadium.
But as Villanova found out a year ago, projections mean absolutely zilch once you start playing. The Wildcats, the pick to win the league, started fifth in the national polls last season. Then they lost their first two games, including a winnable opener at FBS Boston College. They finished 6-5, 5-3 in the CAA. Three losses were by a total of six points. Didn't matter. They still underachieved. Now they've been picked second, behind New Hampshire (which received 15 of the 24 first-place votes), a team that isn't on their schedule.
So, what's it going to be this time?
"I think it's good pressure," said Robertson, who ran for 1,405 yards and passed for 1,957, accounting for 33 touchdowns. "I feel like the position I'm in, the whole team, that's where I want to be. You want to be the guy that's being looked at. It means you're doing something right.
"Last year was very disappointing, to say the least. We had such high hopes. We felt we could really make a run for it. We had some close games where we didn't find a way to get it done."
One of the problems was injuries at the other skill positions, especially wide receiver. So the passing attack was noticeably compromised, and the offense often reverted largely to Robertson's legs. And it still was nearly enough. Now the receiving corps is in better shape. Ditto the situation at running back.
Kevin Monangai, who went over 1,000 yards himself in 2012, and Austin Medley could be a productive tag team in the backfield if they can remain healthy. There are some questions along the front line, but seniors Ross Hall and Vince Kowalski were the other two Wildcats to make the preseason first-team.
Robertson didn't participate in spring practice, after undergoing labrum surgery to his left (non-throwing) shoulder on New Year's Day. But he insists that's not going to be an issue.
"It's good," he said. "I'm just as strong as last year, maybe even stronger. It's my hitting shoulder. I always turn to stay away from my right arm . . . I was worried I wasn't going to be able to lead the team. But watching from the sideline, you get a different persepctive. You pick up things you wouldn't see completely, if you were out there. It was cool. I was able to talk to the guys after practice, telling them what they needed to do. I probably never would have noticed that they were doing something wrong."
Last year opponents understandably began stacking the box to try to contain Robertson. Sometimes it worked. So the Wildcats have to figure out a way to spread things around, as they were able to do much more of 2 years ago when they went 8-4 after being picked to finish nowhere.
As senior wideout Poppy Livers duly noted, "John can make plays. He's dangerous."
But it's harder when this basically turns into a solo show.
"It gives you a lot of impetus, if you have an all-world QB who can do so many things, but you need support," longtime head coach Andy Talley accurately cautioned. "We scored 30 a game last year. I think we can do that again. The defense allowed 22. That should get you eight wins.
"John's one of the very best in the country, at any level. He's smart enough and mature enough to handle all that goes with being a celebrated quarterback. He's our lead horse, one of the best we've ever had. I think he's up to the challenge.
"He enjoys the physicality of the game. He's looking for contact. He's not your pretty passer-type guy. He gets hit immediately. His running takes a lot of the pressure off him."
Stats are nice, but it's only about the bottom line. The Wildcats need to get back to the playoffs. And maybe even win some when they get there. That'll take a joint effort. But it starts with one cog. On the Main Line, it usually has.
Fourth-year wideout Jamal Abdur-Rahman (La Salle High) is no longer on the roster because of conduct detrimental to the team. He will remain at the school this year to complete his degree, then transfer. He has one season of eligibility left, if he goes to a Division II or III program.
He was limited to five games last season due to injuries. He caught 39 passes for 443 yards and two touchdowns in his career, and also carried 68 times for 479 yards and two scores.
Preseason poll (first place votes in parentheses)
1. New Hampshire (15)
2. Villanova (2)
3. Richmond (3)
4. William & Mary (3)
8. James Madison (1)
9. Stony Brook
11. Rhode Island