BALTIMORE >> Mark Ferrante has been around Villanova football for 32 years, 30 as an assistant and the last two as the head coach. So he would know if the Wildcats ever suffered through an injury-played season like the one Villanova endured a year ago.
He did, of course.
“I think it was 1995 and we had close to the same number of injuries and we finished 3-8 that year,” Ferrante said. “We went 3-8.”
It was so long ago that senior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk was born at the tail end of that season (Nov. 8). Senior safety Rob Rolle would not be born until five months after that season concluded.
“This past year was probably even worse from a numbers of injuries perspective,” Ferrante said. “But hey, that’s part of the game. That’s just one of the variables that you hope to avoid when you’re going into the season. You don’t want to get hit with the injury bug, but unfortunately we did.”
The Wildcats didn’t just get hit with the injury bug a year ago, they were ravaged by it.
The offense was hit the hardest. The Wildcats lost a total of 40 games to injury on the offensive side of the ball. In all, 24 players made at least one start on offense, including nine wide receivers and three tight ends. A total of 15 players started at least once on defense.
“To have one guy go down with an Achilles, two lisfranc foot injuries and 10 knees in one year is a bit much, I would say,” Ferrante said.
The two biggest injuries were to Rolle and Bednarczyk a week apart. Rolle, who was selected as the CAA preseason Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee in the fourth game of the season against Albany. Bednarczyk tore the MCL in his left knee a week later against Towson.
The result was a 5-6 record and a good reason why the Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in a preseason coaches poll for the Colonial Athletic Association Tuesday.
“It was demoralizing,” Bednarczyk said of the injuries. “We had to have a lot of young guys step up, and I don’t know if they were ready. It’s tough to be that ready when you’re that young, especially when you go into the season expecting to get a couple of reps, but not expecting to be a full-time guy. But that’s the crazy thing about this game. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The good news is that Bednarczyk and Rolle are among 16 starters back, nine on offense and six on defense. Throw in younger players who had to fill in a year ago and you’re looking at a pretty deep team.
Of 22 players listed on the preseason depth chart on offense, 17 made at least one start a year ago, and 10 played in at least five games.
“It can definitely help us,” Bednarczyk said. “I was trying to find the silver lining in all of it last year, just sitting around thinking, and that was definitely one thing that came to mind that the young kids are going to be better off for it and I’m going to be better off for it because I won’t take any snap for granted.”
Neither will Rolle, whose return is welcome to a secondary that lost three of five starters, two of whom were signed by NFL teams as undrafted free agents. Cornerback Trey Johnson is on the Steelers roster. Fellow corner Malik Reeves was recently waived by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rolle was selected to the preseason all-conference team for a second year in a row. Left tackle Ethan Greenidge also earned preseason all-conference honors.
“It’s about going out there and having fun and going to war with my teammates and playing football,” Rolle said. “I have a great deal of respect for the CAA and the coaching staffs across the conference for voting for me. … It’s definitely a great honor, but I take it with a grain of salt. It is what it is. As it was last year it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t go out there and back it up.”
As for being picked sixth in the preseason poll, that’s of little concern.
“We don’t care about that,” Rolle said. “We look at how we finished last year and we look at the guys we have coming back. We’re just excited to be back on the field. We don’t have any expectations. We don’t want to go out to prove anything to anyone but ourselves. … A lot of guys who missed time last year are itching and scratching to get back on the field.”
NOTES >> The Wildcats are ranked in three preseason polls. They are No. 11 according to Athlon Sports, No. 17 by Hero Sports and No. 20 by Street & Smith’s Yearbook. … The Wildcats open the season Saturday, Sept. 1 against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. Kickoff is at noon, and the game will be broadcast on ESPNews. The Owls were picked to finish third in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference. … Delaware safety Nasir Adderley was the only other player with local ties selected to the CAA preseason all-conference team. The senior from Great Valley High School is a cousin of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Herb Adderley.