Local pipeline fueling 'Nova

Hammonton's Alex Padovani: Villanova-bound. TOM GRALISH / Staff
Hammonton's Alex Padovani: Villanova-bound. TOM GRALISH / Staff
Posted: February 17, 2014

Villanova has enjoyed a strong recent run at the Football Championship Subdivision level, and one of the reasons for the success is the ability to recruit top performers from South Jersey - specifically, the Cape-Atlantic League.

The South Jersey pipeline continued Wednesday, as four of Villanova's 14 recruits were from the area. Defensive back Rob Rolle of Delsea was the only South Jersey player not from the Cape-Atlantic. The Cape recruits were linebacker Jeff Steeb (Holy Spirit), receiver Alex Padovani (Hammonton), and linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville).

"I like the fact that Villanova is not that far away and has a great football program and is great academically," Shockley said.

Those are the main reasons the local players go to Villanova, but the coaching staff also deserves a lot of credit for persistent pounding of the South Jersey pavement.

"South Jersey, we consider to be a suburb of Villanova, and in many cases it is just an hour to hour and a half away," Villanova coach Andy Talley said.

"Villanova has gotten so much exposure in the greater Delaware Valley and has become sort of a household word, and that has helped us recruiting in South Jersey."

Besides the proximity, there is another reason the Wildcats recruit the area so aggressively.

"There is a lot of talent in South Jersey," Talley said.

Villanova had 13 players from the seven-county South Jersey area on its preseason 2013 roster, with six from the Cape-Atlantic League, including middle guard Antonie Lewis of Mainland, who started all 48 games during his four seasons.

Since 2008, the Wildcats have qualified for the FCS playoffs six times, winning the national title in 2009 and advancing to the semifinals the next season.

Talley said the success of one Cape-Atlantic alumnus, receiver/running back Matt Szczur of Lower Cape May, helped Villanova increase its recruiting effort not only in the Shore area but also throughout South Jersey.

Szczur was a consensus all-American in 2009, when Villanova won the national championship. He is an outfielder in the Chicago Cubs' minor-league system.

In Villanova's 23-21 win over Montana in the 2009 national final, Szczur rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

"Matt Szczur made such a great name for himself," Talley said. "That helped our recruiting in South Jersey."

Not surprisingly, Talley was extremely high on all four new South Jersey recruits. He believes Shockley and Steeb can become impact linebackers.

"They are both physical and can run and are high-quality kids," Talley said.

One area in which Villanova needs to build depth is at receiver, and that's where Hammonton's Padovani comes in.

"Alex is a spread receiver who will fit in very nicely," Talley said. "He is big enough [6-feet, 190 pounds] to block for us, and he has really good hands and is a really good football player."

The 6-0, 175-pound Rolle was recruited for the secondary, most likely at safety.

"We like his size and the fact that he is a playmaker," Talley said.

As the coach and his staff have begun looking at players for their 2015 class, expect them to continue their major push in South Jersey.

"South Jersey is a great area, and we have a lot of alumni there," Talley said.



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