Aug 29, 2013
By Mike Sheridan
Villanova Media Relations
Talk to a college coach, past or present, and the likelihood is that he or she can offer a listener a tale or two from the recruiting files. It could be an account of one that got away. Or perhaps it's a story with a happier conclusion.
There is, more often than not, a measure of intrigue as elite teenage athletes weigh a multitude of factors in selecting a college destination.
This, however, is not one of those stories.
Villanova senior forward Dylan Renna, you see, wasted little time in identifying his choice.
"He was one of those guys who, quite honestly, wanted to be here," states Villanova head coach Tom Carlin. "Dylan came to campus and fell in love with it.
"Early on in the process we were about Dylan and he was about Villanova. He's a kid with a big heart who comes from a big family. I think he was looking for this kind of small, community atmosphere and we fit him well."
The connection of school and athlete fits as snugly now as it did six years ago when Renna selected Villanova. These days Renna is a three-year starter who enters the 2013 campaign that begins on Friday evening at New Mexico as a preseason first team All-BIG EAST choice. Over the course of his career, he has been a dependable weapon in a sport where the skill to create plays and finish them by putting the ball into the back of the opponents' net is of paramount value.
He presently stands as the most accomplished veteran on a unit that must replace such bellwether stalwarts as Kyle Soroka, Kyle McCarthy, Ryan Whalen, and John Fogarty as it seeks to build on its program best 12 wins of a season ago.
"This year Dylan has emerged as a lead by example guy on the field," states Carlin. "He has become more of a two way guy - he's very trustworthy and reliable. It shows the ownership he has taken within the team."
Renna has played a pivotal role for the Wildcats in each of his three seasons. Yet this is a different challenge.
"It's definitely a new look," says Renna. "We're a younger team - this group has to build new relationships rather than depending on older guys. As juniors and seniors, we've got to be leaders."
Leadership comes in many forms. As Carlin notes, Renna's personality lends itself to establishing a work ethic for his teammates to take note of. It's less about fiery chatter than it is about demonstrating his dedication to getting better.
"It's just kind of setting the tone by working hard every day," Renna says.
The product of Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) knows well about the toil it takes to excel. During the early portion of his college career it was an undertaking simply to be on the field at the Division I level. Not long after his arrival at Villanova, Renna began experiencing pain in his hips that limited both his mobility and capacity to endure the grind of college soccer.
"It was actually the way I grew," explains Renna. "It was kind of a freak thing. It was never really painful at all but then it started bothering me and there really wasn't any other option than surgery."
Those who watched Renna thrive as a freshman in 2010 saw no indication that the newcomer was limited. He became an instant factor as a striker, notching five goals and three assists for 13 points while establishing himself as a foe opposing back walls needed to pay heed to.
When the 2010 season concluded in the opening round of the BIG EAST Championship, though, Renna was scheduled for surgery. In December he underwent surgery on his right hip. Three months later, he endured another surgery on his left hip.
Countless hours of rehabilitation followed as Renna poured his energy into preparing for the 2011 season. The process was painstaking and singular. He missed all of the spring season and preseason camp too.
"The rehab was tough," Renna concedes. "But there was only one way to look at it - if I didn't do the rehab, I wasn't going to be able to play."
"It set him back," adds Carlin. "For a player to miss that much time is significant. He missed time competing and there are just things you learn from logging minutes at this level. You could argue that he is more of a junior now than he is a senior because of all the time he battled injuries."
The West Milford, N.J., native was sidelined for the opening three games of the 2011 season. When he did return he noticed quickly that teams were keenly aware of his goal scoring ability. He was marked closely as foes surmised that the most efficient way to neutralize Villanova's offense was to control him.
"Sophomore year was a lot different," he recalls. "There was a lot more attention put on me because I scored a bunch of goals freshman year."
Renna got some scoring assistance from newcomer Aaron Dennis and Kyle Soroka. His knack for scoring and the attention it brought allowed him to expand his impact, operating more as a facilitator than finisher. When the season was over Renna had a team high six assists to go with three goals and the Wildcats had the first two postseason wins in school history. It was his move down the right side past a pair of defenders and cross into the box that set up Dennis for the only goal in the opening round win at No. 18 Notre Dame.
All of it was done despite the fact Renna was, in his words, "never really fit that year."
Healthy again in 2012, Renna resumed his role as a facilitator. The Wildcats had a deeper well to draw from among experienced goal scorers and Renna's offensive numbers dipped a bit (one goal, four assists). But on balance the Wildcats were a more dangerous club than they were in previous campaigns, one that tied a school record for wins (12) and saw its goals scored total rise from 20 to 34.
As 2013 beckons, Renna looms as a key ingredient for the Wildcats. It is expected that he will be asked to both score and facilitate chances for others. He will again be marked closely and is eager to embrace the chance to set a tone through his approach.
"He's healthy, which he wasn't for a lot of his first two years," notes Carlin. "We're counting on him to score some goals and create opportunities for us around the goal."
The Wildcats open the season Friday night at New Mexico and Renna is eager to get started on the last leg of his college journey.
"It couldn't be any more important for us to set a tone by playing well against New Mexico," he says.
In a sense, Renna has been "all in" for Villanova since 2008. It's a decision he has never questioned and if he can serve as a guidepost for the program in his farewell campaign, so much the better.
As it is, this one has a chance to end up as the best kind of recruiting story of all, one where an early commitment delivers on every bit of its hope for player and program alike.
NOTES - The Wildcats visit the Lobo Soccer Complex to face the No. 11 Lobos on Friday night at 9 p.m. eastern time. New Mexico has been among the nation's attendance leaders and VU can expect to hear plenty of drums and vuvuzuelas - the first 500 fans entering the Lobo Soccer Complex will receive the South American horns according to the UNM athletics web site.
The Lobos return five starters from a unit that finished 17-4-1 in 2012.