Villanova ready to defend


The Youngstown-area quartet who helped the Villanova University football team to win its first national championship last season is now getting prepared for a spring practice that they hope will lead to another national title.

Junior running back Angelo Babbaro (Canfield), sophomore punter Dominic Scarnecchia (Mooney), redshirt freshman defensive back Vince Peterson (Howland) and assistant coach Brian Flinn (Ursuline), who helped Villanova win the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national crown last December, will launch spring drills on March 8 after returning from spring break and a week’s vacation.

“We will be outside in the cold every morning at 7 a.m. We don’t have an indoor facility,” said Babbaro, who will be a fifth-year senior running back next season after sharing starting duties last season with roommate, good friend and senior-to-be Aaron Ball from Los Angeles.

“We are in the middle of winter conditioning right now,” added Babbaro. “We are trying to recover our bodies from all season. I don’t think [spring practice] will be too rigorous. We want to get everyone healthy.”

Babbaro is optimistic that Villanova, which knocked off previously-undefeated Montana, 23-21, on Dec. 18 in front of 14,328 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn., to win the national crown, has a good chance to repeat as a national champion.

“Hopefully, we will be doing the same things as last year,” he said. “We only lose about seven starters combined on offense and dfense. We should be ranked up there at No. 1-2-3 in preseason,” said Babbaro, who contributed 48 yards in 10 carries for a 4.8-yard average in the championshp win. He also caught one pass for 48 yards.

But the key player for coach Andy Talley’s Wildcats (14-1) in the win over Montana (14-1) was junior wide receiver and quarterback Matt Szczur of Erma, N.J., who rushed for a career-high 159 yards, including two TDs, and racked up 270 all-purpose yards. He was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

Flinn, who is Villanova’s receivers coach and national recruiting coordinator, has coached Szczur for three years and helped him to make the transition to playing both wide receiver and wildcat quarterback.

“He lines up in the shotgun and takes a direct snap. He rushed for more than 800 yards,” said Flinn, noting that the team may lose Szczur for next season because he is a good baseball player and may be drafted.

“He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school and will be eligible for the draft this year,” said Flinn.

Babbaro, a former Canfield High football and track standout and the the son of Angelo and Lisa Babbaro, said he and Ball probably will share running-back duties again next season.

“We have diferent [offensive] packages. Aaron Ball is more of a power runner. He weighs 210 whereas I am lighter at about [190]. But I am the faster of the two, and the media around here like to refer to us as ‘Thunder and Lightning, ” said Babbaro. “He runs more inside and I run outside.”

Babbaro, who will graduate in May with an economics degree and then begin work toward his MBA in the summer, has an excellent chance to become 1,000-yard career rusher. He has 837 yards rushing in 135 attempts and nine TDs entering his final year, along with 50 receptions for 502 yards and four TDs.

Babbaro said Scarnecchia, the team’s starting punter who kicked three times against Montana for a 41.7-yard average, made a successful transition to becoming a rugby-style punter this year; while Peterson was redshirted.

“We started the rugby punting system. [Scarnecchia] catches it and rolls out to the right and kicks it on on the run. He did outstanding,” said Babbaro, citing the advantages of rugby-style punting. “You have less blocked punts and more time to get down there and cover.”

XJohn Kovach covers college athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at kovach@vindy.com.

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