Safety Ventrone comes up big in ‘Nova victory

Nathan McGann

Villanova’s upset victory in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup was one to remember with standout performances from several Wildcat stars. Receiver Brandyn Harvey, after a disappointing first half, exploded in the second half to finish with nine catches for a career high 142 yards. Quarterback Chris Whitney, who ended the game with a career high 278-passing yards, marched the Wildcats down the field late in the fourth quarter twice, setting up redshirt freshman Nick Yako’s game-winning field goal as time expired.

And while the offense stole the spotlight, it was Villanova’s defense entire night that allowed the Wildcats to escape with only its third victory over an FCS opponent. Senior free safety Ross Ventrone, the brother of former Patriots special teamer and Villanova standout Raymond Ventrone, stepped up with an interception and a 59-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery. He was all over the field, registering a team-high nine tackles and adding a critical pass deflection. More importantly, the senior was Villanova’s voice on and off the field.

“We knew it was going to be a great game,” Ventrone said after the game. “Everyone just came out to play. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. When we came out [down by 10] I said ‘D, we’re on the field first, so let’s get it going.’ Everyone just got hyped.”

After graduating several key defensive members, there were concerns about the potential of this year’s squad, especially in terms of size and experience. But Ventrone’s performance last Thursday has certainly silenced some critiques, at least for now. Head Coach Andy Talley has taken notice.

“Ross is the glue of our secondary,” Talley said. “He makes all the calls, all the adjustments. He is a very sure tackler and he’s a guy who can diagnose things pretty well. He keeps that whole group together.”

Villanova’s leader in interceptions in 2008, Ventrone’s journey has been nothing short of unique. Due to a significant lack of size, he played only one year of high school football and was limited to just four games due to injury. After enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh, he earned a spot on special teams for the Panthers as a walk-on, but never recorded a tackle and was seeing limited to no playing time.

Having coached his brother and seeing some potential during Ventrone’s workouts in Pitt’s spring practices, Talley took a flyer and offered Ventrone a scholarship and the opportunity to transfer to a school he knew all too well.

“His brother was here and the family we knew,” Talley said. “We had an extra scholarship and we just had the spring game and the lineage of the family to go on. We took a chance, and it has paid off.”

Now Ventrone has a golden opportunity to emerge from the shadow of his older brother and help lead this team to its first ever national championship. He has seen his role increase from role player to veteran leader given the responsibility of calling all defensive plays.

While all eyes will continue to look at the Wildcats’ offense, the success of this team may just depend on Ventrone and the rest of the secondary’s ability to step up and shut down the powerhouse offenses they can expect in the difficult CAA conference.