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Villanova's Robertson wins Payton Award

Quarterback John Robertson becomes the third Wildcat to be recognized as the top player in at that level of college football.

UNDER ANDY TALLEY, Villanova has had a great tradition of prolific quarterbacks, from Kirk Schulz to Chris Boden to Brett Gordon to Chris Whitney. And there were plenty of other really good ones in between.

But none of them had the kind of career that John Robertson is putting together.

Two years ago, the North Jersey native won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS. And last night, the dual-threat redshirt junior added the Walter Payton Award that goes to the best player at his level. The honor was presented by the Hatboro-based Sports Network at its annual banquet at the Sheraton Society Hill hotel.

"My heart was beating out of my chest ,'' Robertson said. "It was a lot to take in.''

Robertson is the third Wildcat to receive the Payton. No other program has produced more than two. He joins Brian Finneran (1997), who remains the only wide receiver to win, and running back Brian Westbrook (2001). They were both seniors. As was Gordon when he finished a very close second in 2002 to a fellow named Tony Romo from Eastern Illinois.

"That's great for our program, that nobody else has done that," Robertson said. "It's really cool. But it's also a credit to my teammates. Coach always says I raise the level of play of everyone around me. That goes both ways. They trust me and support me, made me better.

"As a quarterback, it's about stats and everything. But the only one that matters is if you win. For the most part, everything else comes with that."

The other finalists were Eastern Washington junior QB Vernon Adams Jr. - who missed four games with a broken ankle and was runner-up for the second straight year - and Idaho State senior QB Justin Arias.

"John had more of a factor on the outcome of a game and a season than either of the Brians," Talley noted. "Because he's the quarterback.

"He's blessed with God-given speed as a runner. And he worked extremely hard on his ability to throw the ball. He's as accurate as anyone we've ever had.

"With him, we always have a chance to win. We know we have the ultimate weapon. I know what the poor coach on the other sideline is thinking. We call him the eraser, because he erases a lot of our mistakes. He makes something good happen."

Robertson got 66 of the 160 first-place votes. Not bad for a guy who was beaten out for the job coming out of preseason camp in both 2010 and '11.

It also isn't too shabby for someone who played much of the season with a soft cast on his non-throwing hand to protect a broken bone suffered in the opener.

"My one goal was just to start," Robertson remembered. "Then, it was what can I do with this .

"I did not want to sit."

This season, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 35 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. He carried 227 times for over 1,000 yards and 11 more scores. His rushing numbers went up significantly in the last few games after the cast was removed.

He ranked first nationally in three categories (passing efficiency, points responsible for and PRF per game) and was second in two others (passing TDs and passing yards per attempt). He joined Westbrook as the only Wildcats to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and is already the program's all-time total offense leader.

Most indelibly as it pertains to his position, he took the Wildcats on three late game-winning TD drives, two of them on the road. The other was in their playoff opener. And it would have been four had they been able to convert a short field goal at the end of regulation at Syracuse, where they lost in double overtime.

The sixth-ranked Wildcats (11-3) were eliminated in last Saturday's quarterfinals by Sam Houston State by three points, a game that Robertson was forced to sit out because of a concussion he suffered the week before. Their other losses were both by one in games that came down to missed kicks.

"Every day I'm getting better," said Robertson, who admitted he was wearing the same suit he had on when he accepted the Rice because the only other one he has was a little dirty. "I just wasn't 100 percent . Everyone said I did the right thing. This is for your health. You don't want to put your brain in jeopardy."

He said he'll watch at least some of Friday night's SHS at North Dakota State semifinal, but . . .

"It'll be tough to live with the what-ifs," he conceded.

Robertson admits he's not the best practice player, which is why he might have had trouble at first convincing the coaches he could be their man.

"I ran around a lot," he explained. "They were like, 'This isn't high school. You can't just run by people.' I said, 'Man, I think I can.' Then I started doing it . My high school coach always told me to make the first guy miss. He instilled that in me."

So how does he continually pull that off?

"I have no clue," Robertson smiled.

It's one of the few answers he didn't come up with this year.

Extra point

Villanova junior linebacker Don Cherry came in second for the Buck Buchanan Award that's given to the top defensive player. The winner was senior end Kyle Emanuel of three-time defending champion North Dakota State.