The Villanovan’s Athlete of the Year: Matt Szczur



David Cassilo

Matt Szczur stood in the backfield and awaited the direct snap. Villanova was aligned in the Wildcat formation, one tailored to Szczur’s skills and one that Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley says Szczur plays better than Brian Westbrook did when he was at Villanova.

Talley knows he can count on Szczur, and that’s why he’s given him the ball in such a big spot. It’s fourth-and-one from the third-yard line, and a Villanova touchdown would give the Wildcats a comfortable 23-14 lead over Montana with 11 minutes to play in the FCS title game.It’s a moment Szczur has been dreaming about since his freshman year when, while watching Appalachian State play, he turned to his roommate John Dempsey and said, “It’d be crazy to be them right now.”

 On a day when Szczur would finish with 270 total yards, it was just these three he needed to stop dreaming and help Villanova become the Appalachian State of 2009.

The snap came to Szczur, and he moved to his left. His entire game is built on speed as he has blazed past opponents in every sport he’s played. But here his speed will do him no good as 216-pound Montana linebacker Josh Stuberg is standing between him and the first down marker. With no chance to go around him, Szczur, who is more than 20 pounds smaller than the linebacker, pulls a new trick out of his bag. He runs right over him and into the end zone.

While the Montana side of Finley Stadium in Chattanooga groans, the Villanova side erupts, and no section is louder than the Szczur contingent of family and friends from Cape May, N.J. As the 11 minutes wind down, the cheers grow louder and won’t stop until the wee hours of the morning.The game ends with Villanova on top 23-21 and Szczur on top of the podium to accept the game’s most valuable player award as his teammates and family look on.

“It was amazing,” said Marc Szczur, his father. “I don’t know how to describe it, but I will never forget it.”

While the evening was a coming-out party nationally for Szczur, for those who have known him for his entire life, it was just another part of the Szczur legend.


“I’m not a handyman.”


Szczur has all the answers on the field, but there is a least one question he stumbles over: What is he not good at?

“I’m trying to think of something,” Szczur said, not in boastfulness but in honesty. “There’s got to be something.”

At least in athletics, it’s hard to find anything. Szczur was a four-year starter at Cape May Regional High School on his baseball, football and indoor track teams. Before high school, he was a South Jersey champion in wrestling. His senior year, he was set to play basketball before he injured himself playing football. 

“The first time we went out and played ‘Horse,’ he picked up the ball and was draining 3’s,” said Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney, who rooms with Szczur.

Then what about Szczur’s local street hockey league? 

“He won that, too,” his father said with a chuckle.

Golf? The first time he played he shot a 67 on the front nine and a 45 on the back nine.

A jack-of-all-trades, Szczur is an accomplished artist and a good student, too, yet is described as humble and down to earth by everyone who knows him. 

In fact, he was even able to find out what he wasn’t good at.

“I’m not a handyman,” Szczur said. “I’m a momma’s boy. She did everything for me.”

On many nights in Cape May, Marc Szczur would come home from work to his house on Seashore Road, step out of his car and see his two sons, Matt and Marc, by the door with a bucket of baseballs ready to go to the field. The two were always ready to play, and their mom and dad were happy to oblige.

Szczur always had a knack for picking things up quickly, mainly because he had to in order to keep up with his big brother. Szczur played with his brother’s friends and even wound up on his brother’s teams as he would play up a few years in baseball. 

“Maybe it came from my brother,” Szczur said of his competitive nature. “I was just trying to be better than him.”

It was always apparent that athletically, Szczur was mature beyond his years.

He threw so hard in baseball that they moved the mound back in Little League, and parents demanded to see his birth certificate to verify his age.

His parents, who were at those games and almost every one since, never had a problem showing the evidence that he was indeed their son.


“Matt doesn’t punt.”


Szczur’s senior season came with expectations — something rare for a team at Lower Cape May Regional. Behind Szczur, who had transitioned from running back to quarterback the season before, the team was in position to grab homefield for the playoffs. Szczur was called on to play an unfamiliar role late in that game when the punter got hurt, and he was forced into duty.

Facing a fourth-and-six late in the game, Szczur was hesitant to punt, but Coach Bailey sent him out there with those orders. As he waited for the snap, Szczur’s father, who was a regular on the sidelines as a ball boy, turned to the photographer to his left and relayed one simple message.

“Get your cameras ready because Matt doesn’t punt,” he said.

His father was right because when Szczur got the snap, he tucked it into his body and ran to his right for 10 yards for the first down. When he ran past his sideline he called back to his coach, “I’m sorry.” Lower Cape May Regional then took three kneels and won the game.

While Szczur was making a name for himself on the football field, he was turning even more heads playing baseball.

Szczur made plays all over the field, whether it was beating out ground balls to third base, picking runners at second base while catching or hitting long home runs. Eventually, scouts began to take notice, and by his junior year he was taking batting practice before games with a wood bat. A senior season in which he hit .681 confirmed the inevitable: Szczur had a big decision to make.

The dilemma lay with the fact that Szczur wanted to play both baseball and football, and most colleges were not happy to hear this.

“That’s probably what scared a lot of the major colleges off,” Bailey said. “He was adamant about it.” 

Still, Szczur garnered a lot of interest, especially to play baseball from ACC and SEC schools, but during each road trip with his father, they would compare each school to one: Villanova.

It was a school that Szczur was very familiar with, as he had attended football summer camp there with his football team in high school, and one of his high school’s star players, Matt Dicken, was a running back there. Most importantly, Villanova was open to him playing both sports.

Head Coach Joe Godri and the baseball team were more than on board to get a player of his caliber, but if the football team didn’t act fast, they might lose him. Godri, a football man himself, encouraged Head Coach Andy Talley to offer Szczur a full scholarship. However, Talley needed a little convincing.

“I had reservations about recruiting him because he was an all-everything player and wasn’t a pure receiver,” Talley said.

Once Receivers Coach Brian Flynn ensured Talley that Szczur could play as a receiver, Talley was in, and Szczur was offered a full scholarship. He was going to be a Wildcat.

Well, there was still one hurdle left — the MLB draft. Szczur knew he would be drafted, so he set a number in mind for his contract, and if a team was willing to offer him that, he would be off to the minor leagues. In the 38th round, the Los Angeles Dodgers chose Szczur, and it was decision time.

After mulling it over by the Cape May beach, a place he did a lot of his thinking, Szczur declined the offer and was set on Villanova. He was passing up the pay day, but he still had a nice consolation prize.

“I told my dad, if I get a football scholarship, you’re buying my first car,” Szczur said.

His dad happily agreed and bought Szczur a 2007 Mustang.


“We’ll let you out of football.”


Szczur redshirted his freshman year of baseball due to an injury, and before his sophomore season even started, Szczur took a seat in Talley’s office because he wanted to talk.

“I’m thinking of backing off from baseball,” Szczur said.

The combination of football and baseball workouts had become overwhelming, and Szczur wasn’t sure if he could handle both. Talley, knowing Szczur’s potential in baseball, tried to reason with him.

“No way,” Talley said. “We’ll let you out of football. You may have a future in baseball, and you can’t pass that up.”

The two agreed that Szczur would go down to the baseball team’s series at Louisiana State and see if he still felt the same way when he came back. When Szczur returned, he decided to stay with both, but he, Talley and Godri worked out a program for him that included reducing his workout schedule for both sports.

Feeling refreshed with a slightly lessened workload, Szczur was ready to bust out, and in his junior season on the football field, he did just that.

Szczur became the go-to guy in the Villanova offense and became a dangerous threat the Wildcat formation.

“My wife would say, ‘You know everytime he gets the ball he’s running it,’ and I’d say, ‘I know, but people can’t stop it,'” Talley said.

Szczur was the sparkplug behind Villanova’s 2009 national title season. He was named the Colonial Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year before winning Most Valuable Player of the title game.

“There isn’t a better player in college football,” Talley said.


“He’s done everything but go to the moon.”


Cape May is not known for athletics. To most, it is a vacation destination. So when a once-in-a-lifetime player comes around like Szczur, the community supports him.

The town was in a buzz when Szczur was in the national title game. Every bar had the game on, and Cape May was full of excitement. After Villanova won the national title, Szczur’s town held a Matt Szczur Day to honor him both as a football player and a citizen.

One of those supporting him is Terry Shields. A close family friend of the Szczurs, Shields owns a bike rental shop in Cape May which Szczur worked at starting at the age of 14. It doesn’t take long for anyone visiting to find that out.

“In my shop I have some of his press clippings,” Shields said. “When people check in here at the shop, they see all his accolades.”

Although Shields knows Szczur a little better than most people in Cape May, his praise of him is nothing but genuine.

“He’s just somebody for Cape May to be proud of,” Shields said.

Last November, Szczur learned that he was a match to donate bone marrow to a 1-year old girl with leukemia. 

Szczur was initially willing to sit out some of the football season in order to donate, though that did not prove necessary.  Either way, he is fully on board to donate.

“I’ll never be able to accomplish something like that on the football field,” Szczur said.

After having the surgery postponed, Szczur is on track to donate this weekend. The procedure will suspend his baseball season for a few games, but those around him know that it is a small price to pay to help the girl.

“He’s done everything but go to the moon, and now he’s going to save a girl’s life,” his brother Marc said.

“It’s a good decision to make.”


Szczur entered college as purely a pro baseball prospect. With his success last season on the football field, he now appears to have the option to play professionally.

On June 7, Szczur figures to be selected again in the MLB draft, but this time his selection will most likely be higher and be for more money.

“Szczur has a chance to be a major league outfielder,” one MLB scout said. “His speed stands out.”

Although Szczur has a price in mind that he would need to get in order to sign a contract, he also has a strong connection to his football team and the sport that complicates things.

“This year is going to be hard,” Szczur said. “It’s a good decision to make, but it’s going to be difficult.”

It’s hard to tell which way he is leaning, and he may be the only person that actually knows what the future holds, but that doesn’t stop fans from trying to get the inside scoop.

“Every single person I run into asks me two questions: How does it feel to win the national championship, and is Matt Szczur coming back?” Talley said.

What lies ahead for Szczur is hard to tell. He could be a two-time national champion and a Walter Payton Award winner, or he could be one of the top prospects in some one’s farm system. 

Right now it’s anybody’s guess, but whatever he chooses, it’s certain that the legend of Szczur will continue to grow.