Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Szczur a versatile threat for Villanova football
By MIKE KERN
Philadelphia Daily News
After scoring a touchdown on a kickoff return, a run from scrimmage and a pass reception in Saturday's 55-28 first-round playoff win over Colgate, Villanova's Matt Szczur was asked what it is that he actually does best on a football field.
He paused for a moment, smiled and said, "Block."
Part of him was joking. At the same time, he was just trying to be honest.
"As a wide receiver, [position] coach [Brian] Flinn harps on that all the time," Szczur (pronounced see-zer, like the Roman emperor) said. "The running game comes from us, and the o-line. We're the ones clearing the way downfield, all the time, no matter what.
"I was being a little humble, too. I didn't know how to answer. It was a hard question."
That's because the 5-11, 195-pound sophomore, who might be an even better baseball player and also was a track standout at Lower Cape May (N.J.) Regional High, does just about anything that's asked of him. And he mostly does it pretty well.
"He's probably the best athlete we've got," said head coach Andy Talley, whose Wildcats (10-2) will attempt to avenge their only Division I-AA loss of the season tomorrow afternoon at top-ranked James Madison (11-1). "He's tough, he can run, the kind of guy you never have to worry about. All the things he does really give you an added dimension."
Against Colgate, Szczur took the opening kick back 91 yards for a touchdown, and the Wildcats would never be threatened. In the second quarter, he took a direct snap from center, something he has been doing on a more than occasional basis, and carried it in from 4 yards out to make it 27-7. Early in the third quarter, he caught a 16-yard pass from Chris Whitney to extend the lead to 41.
For the season, Szczur is the team's third-leading rusher, with 437 yards on 73 touches. He's also the third-leading receiver, with 30 catches for 440 yards. He has scored seven times, which ties him for second with Phil Atkinson, another wideout who will get the ball in the backfield as well.
Difference is, with Atkinson it's mostly via pitches when he's in motion, or on reverses. In Szczur's case, he lines up as the quarterback in the old single-wing, or Wildcat formation, as it's better known these days. And everyone pretty much knows what's going to happen. Still, so far nobody's come up with a way to stop him.
"We talk about that almost every day in practice," he said. "It's just funny. It seems like everybody goes a little harder to form the holes, and I just hit it and get in there.
"It's actually fun. It keeps me going. As a receiver, you run routes and block. And sometimes, the ball comes your way. But it's not like you can choose to throw it to yourself."
In the first meeting with JMU, which the Dukes won, 23-19, on a 35-yard tipped pass on the last play on Oct. 25 at Villanova Stadium, Szczur carried a career-best 14 times for 60 yards and a touchdown.
In miserable weather, the Wildcats were able to keep the ball for much of the second half.
It wasn't quite enough. At least now they're getting another shot.
"The way we look at it, we're playing for a national championship," Szczur said. "We're not looking at it as revenge at all. We don't even bring the first game up. This is the next step. To get a ring you have to win four times. This is our next opportunity. We want to keep playing.
"I don't think we're the underdogs at all. We almost beat them. It was a fluke. I think it's going to be an awesome game. We're both in each other's way."
Two years ago, he was drafted in the 38th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, after hitting .681 as a catcher. He didn't play college baseball last spring because he was recovering from a sports hernia. But he'll likely resume that career, and there are those who think that could indeed be his future.
In the meantime he'll keep doing what he does while wearing a different kind of helmet. Up to this point, that includes just about everything except throwing a pass.
"It's in the playbook," Szczur said. "We've actually [called] it three times. It didn't work. Once, last year against Richmond, the receiver was covered and I wound up running. I believe we did it twice against James Madison. But the receiver got jammed on the line and I kind of panicked and took off. Then, we had a sprintout and the receiver was open, but there was no one in front of me so I pointed at him to block. In those conditions, it seemed safer."
Always good to have options.
"This only happened because Antwon [Young] went down [midway through the 2007 season]," Szczur said. "I knew Chris [Whitney] ran a lot, and we didn't have another quarterback after him. They asked me to take some hits off him. I had no problem doing that. It was more chances to have the ball in my hands and make plays. I think that's how everyone should look at it, for every sport.
"As a catcher, you're the main guy out there. You're at the center of everything. Now, whenever I'm back there, I just try to make something good happen."
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