'Nova in the running

Villanova's Kevin Monangai has rushed for nine touchdowns this season.
Villanova's Kevin Monangai has rushed for nine touchdowns this season. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Monangai has No. 19 Wildcats on postseason path

Posted: October 26, 2012

YOU THINK Kevin Monangai runs hard? Well, one opposing coach described his style as "violent."

It was offered as a compliment.

"I do bring more of a punishing approach," said Villanova's 5-8, 200-pound sophomore running back. "Attack the defense before the defense has a chance to attack you."

Whatever gets it done. So far he's the leading rusher in the Colonial Athletic Association, for a 6-2 team that was picked to finish eighth and is now ranked 19th in FCS entering a three-game closing stretch that'll determine its postseason fate. Not too shabby, for a guy who was limited last season due to mononucleosis on a team that went from the national semifinals to 2-9.

"That was hard, personally and as a group," Monangai said. "We knew we had some talented people. We were just young. A lot of things happened. It didn't go the way we planned when we were being recruited. But we've worked hard to prove ourselves on the field.

"I lost one game as a senior in high school [at North Jersey's Seton Hall Prep]. So I wasn't used to that. I don't think anybody here was. You want to make sure you change that back around, right away."

There are a lot of reasons why it did. Monangai is just one of them. His roommate last year, John Robertson, is another. He took over at quarterback midway through the opening loss to Temple and has run for 714 yards, which is fourth in the league, 77 behind Monangai. They're both averaging around 6 yards a carry, and have each scored nine touchdowns. Robertson played not too far from Monangai, at Paramus (N.J.) High, where he also gained over 2,000 yards on the ground in 2010.

"Those Jersey guys all have a chip on their shoulder," said coach Andy Talley. "They hang together pretty good."

"I knew what he could do, so I'm not surprised," added Monangai. "We were the leading rushers in the state. We knew where our heads were at when we came here, what we wanted to accomplish. We're competitors. Everyone seems to complement each other. It's never about one guy. Not if you want to really be successful."

On Saturday the Wildcats, who have lost just one of their five conference games, host No. 23 Towson (3-4, 2-2), which beat them by 21 down there a year ago. Following a bye they'll get No. 9 James Madison (5-2, 3-1), also on the Main Line. Then they're at No. 20 Delaware (5-2, 2-2).

If they win twice they're back in the playoffs, maybe even with a first-round bye and/or home games. One victory leaves them squarely on the bubble. Who needs that?

"We couldn't have really put ourselves in much better position," Monangai said. "But now we have to finish it off, make the most of it, or else it won't matter."

He was supposed to split time with another soph, the more explosive Austin Medley, who has been slowed by injuries.

"He's fighting hard to get back," Monangai said. "It's tough. I know how it feels. I was prepared to share the load with him. It makes my job a lot easier, having him there. It's a friendly give-and-take thing. That makes you better. But more work coming my way wasn't really a burden."

In some ways, it might've turned into good thing.

"He's proven that he's an old-time tailback who you can give the ball to 30 times if you have to, and he gets better," Talley explained. "He's got the durability, the good-enough speed, the vision, the balance. He's one of those guys that if you give it to him you're usually going to get something, even when it's not blocked. He comes off as one of nicest guys in the world but he's really hard-nosed.

"The more you watch him, he lowers the boom pretty good. At his size he doesn't look it, but he's put together. In our offense, the way we block, he has options. But he knows how to read what's going on and make the best choice. He very rarely goes down the first time he's hit. He'll just bounce off and stay up and keep going."

About the worst thing you can say about him is he's been caught from behind a couple of times. OK, so pure speed is not his best attribute. Sue him.

"I catch crap for that," he smiled. "Every day."

As long as he keeps coming up with a bunch of those 5 and 10 yarders, they can live with his shortcomings. Which, by the way, apparently does not include his wardrobe, since Monangai has a reputation as being the best-dressed Wildcat.

"Well, he's usually color-coordinated," Talley said.

"I might have a little of that going on," Monangai acknowledged. "I take pride in how I look. My mom instilled that in me, put your best foot forward."

In uniform, that means making the most of this opportuity.

"I don't think people necessarily believe that we've arrived," he said. "And we're not coming in with that attitude, either. We just kind of have that mindset that if we take care of the little stuff daily the big picture will take care of itself."

Nothing passive about it.

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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