2023 CAA Football

Villanova Football: Brian Westbrook's Hall of Fame Career Is Unrivaled

Villanova Football: Brian Westbrook's Hall of Fame Career Is Unrivaled

The game has had few quite as outstanding as Brian Westbrook, and the Villanova star was recognized with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Dec 6, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
Villanova Football: Brian Westbrook's Hall of Fame Career Is Unrivaled

Pinpointing just a handful of moments that encapsulate Brian Westbrook's greatness is as futile of an endeavor as containing the former Villanova running back on the field. Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante knows that better than anyone. 

"Too many to count, to be honest," Ferrante laughed when asked of his standout memories from Westbrook's time on the Mainline, where he smashed records on his way to College Football Hall of Fame induction. 

Ferrante was Villanova's associate head coach and oversaw the offensive line from 1998 through 2001, and thus was front-and-center for one of the most remarkable careers ever in the sport. 

"He's still to this day, if I'm not mistaken, the only player in the history of college football to rush for 1,000 [yards] and receive for 1,000 in the same year, and in that same year, he had almost 860 yards in the return game," Ferrante said. 

The coach is not mistaken. Westbrook's all-around game predated the proliferation of spread and air raid-based offenses. His brand of equal parts ball-carrying and receiving has become somewhat standard two decades later. 

However, among all the legendary multi-dimensional backs Westbrook predated — Darren Sproles, Westbrook's fellow Class of 2023 Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller, Christian McCaffrey at the FBS level, and someone like Dylan Laube in FCS — the prototype Westbrook remains the only player to reach 1,000 yards in both categories in the same season. 

"I look at the guy and I just go, 'Wow!'" former Villanova coach Andy Talley said in a 1998 interview for a Knight Ridder wire article on Westbrook's pursuit of history.

Talley notes in the same piece that Westbrook was utilized in the passing game partially to help fill the gap Villanova faced with the departure of wide receiver Brian Finneran. Finneran was the first receiver ever to win the Walter Payton Award, a distinction he held for almost 20 years until Cooper Kupp became the second in 2015. 

Finneran hauled in almost 1,400 yards in 1997 and left an imprint that Westbrook still recognizes today. 

"Howie Long is a Villanova great. Brian Finneran is a Villanova great. Those guys are not in," Westbrook said at the College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Las Vegas on Dec. 5, 2023. "So, for me to be the first from a program that has great players like those guys is super special to me, and super special to the Villanova community."

With his induction, Westbrook joined his former head coach Talley as the Hall's only honorees representing Villanova. Considering the multitude of records for not just Villanova as a program, nor in Div. I-AA/FCS, but the entirety of college football, Westbrook's selection is a slam dunk. 

The back went into the Wildcats' matchup with Rhode Island to conclude that 1998 season needing 127 yards rushing to make history. 

He went for 173 in a 27-15 Villanova win, setting a program record with 47 carries and extending his Div. I-AA/FCS record for all-purpose yards in a season to 3,026. 

Westbrook could have never played another down in a Wildcats uniform and still had a Hall of Fame case based on the historic significance of his accomplishments in 1998. However, he kept on rolling — including in 2001, when he obliterated the program rushing record he set in 1998 (1,046) then surpassed in 2000 (1,220) with 1,603 yards. 

Westbrook's rushing output in 2001 was just one part of the more than 2,800 total yards he put up. Another terrific all-around campaign capped a career in which Westbrook produced 9,512 all-purpose yards, an NCAA record that stands today. 

He also ran for 22 touchdowns that season, part of the 29 he recorded in total. Six came through the air, and one was on a kickoff return — Westbrook ran two to the house in 2000. 

Westbrook's collegiate finale in 2001 culminated in him winning the Walter Payton Award. And, like his former teammate Finneran, Westbrook remains through the 2022 season the penultimate player at this position to claim the honor. 

To that end, it's fair to say Westbrook set the bar high for running backs following him. But as outstanding as he was in his time at Villanova as a player, much of what Ferrante praised about Westbrook was his character. 

"I'm just so happy and blessed to call Brian a friend," Ferrante said. "So happy for Brian's recognition, because it's definitely deserved."