Season Preview Part 2: Villanova Defense
Aug. 7, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - In the second part of a two-part season preview the Villanova football defense and kicking game are profiled. The team opened preseason camp this week and will kick off the 2013 season on August 31 at Boston College. The first part of the season preview, highlighting the Wildcats offense, ran on Tuesday afternoon.
Expectations are high for the Villanova football team as the Wildcats prepare for the 2013 season. Villanova returns 16 starters and 35 letterwinners from last year's team that went 8-4 overall and 6-2 in CAA play to grab a share of the conference title and earn the program's fourth playoff appearance in the last five seasons.
In addition to being ranked in the top 10 in a number of national polls, the Wildcats are picked to win the CAA championship in the 2013 preseason predicted order of finish.
The Wildcats will play an 11-game schedule in 2013, including eight CAA games and three non conference contests. Villanova will kickoff the season on August 31 at ACC member Boston College. The other two non conference games will be against Fordham and Penn. Villanova's eight CAA games will be home contests versus Stony Brook, William & Mary, Maine and Delaware and four road games at Towson, New Hampshire, James Madison and Rhode Island.
The strength of the defense appears to be the defensive line. Villanova boasts two of the top down linemen in the CAA in senior nose guard Antoine Lewis (6-2, 290) and senior defensive end Rakim Cox (6-4, 265). The 6-2, 290 pound Lewis was a first team All-CAA selection last year after starting all 12 games and tallying 58 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. This was the second time in his career that he earned All-CAA accolades. As a sophomore in 2010, he was named third team All-Conference. Earlier this summer, he was named a preseason All-American by the Sports Network and he was named to the Buck Buchanan preseason watch list.
A three-year starter, Cox has blossomed into a playmaker on the Villanova defensive line. Last year he led the team with 5.5 quarterback sacks, while amassing 24 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, four pass break-ups and a blocked kick. He was rewarded for his season a year ago by being named first team All-CAA.
Junior Pat Williams (5-11, 300) will also see time at the nose guard position. Williams plays with great intensity and is excellent against the run.
The defensive end opposite Cox will be a position battle between sophomore Reggie Paris (6-3, 250) and sophomore Noble Ajakaiye (6-0, 230). Paris gained valuable experience as a redshirt freshman last year playing in all 12 games and recording 14 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Ajakaiye, who has good pass rushing skills, played in 11 games a year ago and posted seven tackles, one sack and a tackle for loss. After missing all of 2012 due to injury, sophomore Jordan Hunter (6-2, 310) returns this year and will be in the mix for playing time.
Expect the leader of the linebacker unit to be fifth-year senior Pat Haggerty (6-0, 225) who is slated as the starter at one linebacker spot. As a junior last year, Haggerty played in all 12 games and had 38 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Haggerty is an experienced performer with a high football IQ.
Sophomore Don Cherry (6-1, 230) looks to have the inside track on one of the middle linebacker spots. Cherry possesses very good football instincts and looks ready to become a starter in his second season.
Two juniors will fight for the starting spot at the other linebacker position. Dillon Lucas (6-0, 230) and Joey Harmon (6-0, 235) have both played a great deal throughout their first two seasons. Lucas was the CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, before suffering through an injury plagued season in 2012. Lucas played in 11 games last year and registered 47 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. Harmon is a physical performer who has a good combination of size and strength. In 12 games last year, Harmon totaled 45 tackles and five tackles for loss.
The most experienced member of the Wildcat secondary will be senior Craig James (5-11, 195) who will start at corner for the third straight season. James will be looked upon to provide leadership to the Villanova defensive backs. A big question surrounding the Villanova defense is who will replace 2012 first team All-CAA honoree Eric Loper and start at the corner opposite James. Loper, who was a four-year starter for the Wildcats, tied for the team lead last season with four interceptions. Entering camp, it appears that junior Shane Harris (5-11, 200) and redshirt freshman C.J. Logan (5-11, 200) will battle for the position vacated by Loper. Harris, who has a good grasp of the Villanova defense, is a versatile performer who can play both safety and corner. Logan possesses good athleticism and solid cover skills. Another Wildcat who could play himself into a starting spot at corner is junior Corey Reeder (6-2, 195) who saw time last year in the secondary.
Villanova has three talented performers at the safety positions. Highlighting the group is junior free safety Joe Sarnese (6-0, 200) who led the team in tackles last season with 81 to go with a team-high tying four interceptions. For his efforts last year, Sarnese was a third team All-CAA honoree. Sophomore Matt McCann (5-9, 215) returns as the starter strong safety. McCann started all 12 games a season ago and tallied 44 tackles and one interception. The third safety position is expected to be occupied by sophomore Cameron McCurry (5-11, 200) who is coming off a tremendous spring season. For his efforts in spring ball, McCurry earned the Spring Practice Most Improved Defensive Player Award.
Junior Jerry Miles (5-11, 195) and senior John Maughan (5-10, 205) should also be in the mix for playing time in the secondary. Miles has a good feel for the game and can play both corner and safety. He played in all 12 games last year and had 27 total tackles. Maughan possesses good football instincts and plays the game with high energy.
For the third straight year, Villanova's field goal and punting duties will be handled by senior Mark Hamilton (5-11, 185). Throughout his Wildcat career, Hamilton has made 25-of-33 field goal attempts and he is 87-of-89 in PATs. As a punter, he owns a career average of 42.3 yards per punt. Hamilton was named the 2013 preseason All-CAA punter. Junior Chris Gough (6-3, 165) is back and is slated to handle the team's kickoff duties.