With only one player drafted since the Eagles selected running back Brian Westbrook in the third round of the 2002 draft, Villanova has hardly been a hotbed for NFL talent.
This year, however, the Wildcats certainly have the attention of scouts, as they boast two of the more intriguing small school prospects in the country in left tackle Benjamin Ijalana and wide receiver Matt Szczur .
Ijalana was impressive enough to earn a spot in this week's Draft Slant, which you can check out here.
Szczur, however, was even more impressive, earning this week's Diamond in the Rough.
Szczur (pronounced "See-zer") has been a standout football and baseball player for the Wildcats throughout his entire career. A 2009 consensus All-American and the Colonial Athletic Conference Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year, Szczur is perhaps the most widely accomplished "small school" prospect in the country. As such, it wasn't a huge surprise when the Senior Bowl made he and Ijalana earned two of their earliest invites to the prestigious all-star game.
As it turns out, there may have been another reason why Szczur earned a spot on the team, however.
As mentioned previously, Szczur is also a terrific baseball player. So good, in fact, that he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Chicago Cubs. An outfielder with great speed and live bat, he played at three levels in the Cubs organization last summer, batting .347 with a .414 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage in 25 total games.
Szczur has a significant decision to make. Part of his contract with the Cubs is that he has to decide by February 15 whether he's going to pursue baseball or football. By participating in the Senior Bowl (January 29), scouts will be able to provide him with an accurate idea as to his true draft status.
Based on his performance Saturday (9 rushes for 68 yards, 11 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown) in Villanova's comeback victory over Stephen F. Austin to advance to the FCS quarterfinals, they'll like what they see of the versatile playmaker.
Szczur is a multi-purpose athlete who took snaps at the outside and slot receiver positions, as well as at quarterback in Wildcat formations. This was his first game back on the field healthy after missing seven games this season with a high left ankle sprain.
Quite frankly he appeared to still have the lingering effects in the first half against Stephen F. Austin. While he caught several passes and ran reasonably effectively out of the Wildcat, Szczur’s trademark big play ability just wasn’t there.
It was after half-time, however…
Szczur generated most of his plays operating out of the slot. While he isn't truly explosive out of his stance or breaks, he has very good build-up speed at a rock solid 5-11, 200 pounds has the bulk and toughness to handle maintaining this role in the NFL. He has reliable hands and the combination of body control and athleticism to contort in space to make the acrobatic catch.
Scouts had an opportunity to see his acceleration and vision on a Wildcat run in the 3rd quarter for 37 yards. He read his blocks and burst down the near sideline, avoiding several defenders and out-running before being forced out of bounds.
Later in the quarter Szczur made his most impressive play, though it only went for 11 yards. Lining up in the slot, he caught a wide receiver screen on the far sideline, broke free of a tackle in which the defender had one arm wrapped completely around him, recognized the Lumberjacks crashing his way, so he reversed his field ran all the way back towards the near sideline, picked up a few blocks (including one from QB Chris Whitney) and scampered for the first down.
Szczur's touchdown reception came in the 4th quarter with the Wildcats already comfortably ahead. He lined up in slot against zone coverage and showed off his savviness as a route-runner, fooling the safety with a slow release before accelerating past him to collect a perfectly thrown pass from Whitney for 51-yard score.