Szczur headlines Villanova returnees favored to repeat as Colonial Athletic Association champs

Posted: July 29, 2010

Even if all-purpose offensive star Matt Szczur, the Most Outstanding Player in last December's FCS national-title victory, had opted to pursue a pro baseball career full time and not come back for his senior season, Villanova's football team might still have been the preseason favorite to repeat as Colonial Athletic Association champions.

Once the wide receiver made his decision a month ago to try to win more rings, it became a no-brainer. So it came as no great shock when the CAA announced yesterday in Baltimore that the Wildcats, who also return 16 other starters, had indeed received 17 of 20 first-place votes in a poll of the head coaches and media relations personnel.

"It probably is an easy pick for most people, but if you look within our league there's a lot of teams that could be potential contenders, not just for the league title but the national championship," said coach Andy Talley. "That's always been the nature of this league, which is why I think it's the best in the country. Just look at how many times one of our teams has won it all or been in the finals in the last decade.

"And this year, we're far from the only team that's got a lot coming back."

His point is well taken. But he does have the only team that's loaded and coming off a title run.

William & Mary, the team Villanova came from behind to beat by a point at home in the semifinals, finished second, followed by New Hampshire (with two first-place votes), James Madison and Delaware (which got the other).

This year, the CAA is down to 10 teams, with the loss of Hofstra and Northeastern, both of which dropped the sport. So there's no longer two divisions, with three crossover games. Villanova will play everyone else except Massachusetts, which was picked for eighth. Its non-CAA games are against Temple, Lehigh and Penn.

Szczur, a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the June baseball draft, this week was promoted to Class A Peoria after batting .397 in 18 games at rookie-level Boise.

He was the preseason choice for conference offensive player of the year, which he won last season. Teammate Terence Thomas, a senior linebacker, got the defensive nod.

Five other Wildcat seniors - quarterback Chris Whitney, offensive linemen Brant Clouser and Ben Ijalana, safety John Dempsey and placekicker Nick Yako - were on first-team all-conference. Szczur, the 2009 Special Teams Award winner, also made it as a return specialist.

Sounds like there's a lot to like.

"I've been around long enough to know you don't worry about that stuff," Talley cautioned. "We know we're going to have to fight to get out of the league and into the playoffs. When you have a I-A team on your schedule, you know you might not be left with too much wiggle room. You'd like to win the championship, but getting into the playoffs gives you a chance to make another run.

"I think only the most educated fans and the coaching fraternity really understands how difficult it is to survive in this league. We're thin in certain areas. If Chris gets hurt, our backup's an incoming freshman [Dustin Thomas]. So there's a lot of things involved. We hope we get the same good luck we had last year. We started the same 22 kids in the championship game [against Montana] that we started the season with. You just have to play it by ear.

"The kids realize the situation they're in. And the opportunity. Nothing's a slam dunk. Every game can be gut-wrenching, even when everybody you're playing isn't pointing that bull's-eye at you."

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