Villanova's Quarterback Battle Is Heating Up

For nearly a decade, the Villanova Wildcats had great continuity at the quarterback position year-in and year-out.

Throughout the last three years, it was known that Zach Bednarczyk would be the team's signal-caller going into the start of each season, with injuries being the only reason he would come off the field. Before Bednarczyk, it was John Robertson, the recipient of the 2015 Walter Payton Award, an honor given to the most outstanding offensive player at the FCS level.

Prior to Robertson and Bednarczyk, there was Chris Whitney, who helped lead the Wildcats to a 2009 national title before graduating a year later. However, during the transition in-between the Whitney and Robertson eras, 'Nova had some inconsistency at quarterback. The team as a whole struggled, finishing the 2011 campaign with an ugly 2-9 record.

Villanova hasn't come close to hitting that low again, and while this summer might be the most wide-open the positional competition at quarterback has been since 2011, the Wildcats are confident in their lot of signal callers.

Villanova brings back three quarterbacks from last season, juniors Jack Schetelich and J.J. Scarpello, as well as redshirt freshman Qadir Ismail--the son of former NFL player Qadry "The Missile" Ismail.

Head coach Mark Ferrante and his staff brought in four more quarterbacks during the offseason, making the quarterback competition even more intriguing.

"The main three guys—Jack Schetelich, Qadir Ismail, J.J. Scarpello—they're the ones that came through in spring, that's where we'll start," Ferrante said. "We look at those guys in preseason. We have some new guys in two incoming freshmen and two grad transfers, so a dramatic two ends of the spectrum from an experience standpoint and so on."

Two graduate transfers, Daniel Smith (Campbell) and J.P. Petricca (Howard), are able to play right away. This will be Petricca's last season of college football, while Smith—a junior—has two seasons of eligibility remaining. The Wildcats are also welcoming freshmen and Pennsylvania natives, Matt O'Connor and Connor Watkins.

These seven quarterbacks will be looking to make their case for playing time or the starting role. While it's unusual to see this many candidates competing for the job, Ferrante tried to downplay the intrigue a bit.

"People like to talk about quarterback controversies, but it's another position," Ferrante said. "There's gonna be competition, added competition." 

Schetelich and Ismail have had the most in-game experience, when it comes to running Villanova's spread offense. Schetelich had some appearances his redshirt freshman season and was once again relied on when Bednarczyk went down last season. He started two games last year and played in a total of five contests, passing for 246 yards and one touchdown—with two interceptions. He completed 26-of-49 pass attempts (53.1 percent).

Ismail came in towards the end of the season, with the towering quarterback making one start against Richmond and appearing in two other games. Overall, he completed 11 of 29 passes (37.9 percent) with a touchdown and an interception.

As for Scarpello, he hasn't received any playing time, but as a third-year player, he's familiar with the offense.

These three will face some fierce competition from the experienced transfers, especially from Smith. At Campbell, Smith was a finalist for the 2017 Jerry Rice Award—an accolade given to the top-performing freshman—and the dual-threat quarterback owns several program records.

He left Campbell as the school's leader in total offensive yards (5,411) and career passing yards (3,471), as well as passing touchdowns (31) and rushing touchdowns (25).

Meanwhile, Petricca comes to the Main Line in search of greener pastures. At Howard, he sat behind Caylin Newton—the younger brother of NFL quarterback Cam Newton. Petricca appeared in just six games for the Bison, completing his only pass of the year for a 61-yard touchdown. Given an open competition, the 6-foot-1 Chicago native will be eager to prove his worth on a Division I college football field.

The freshmen will also be excited to experience football at the next level. O'Connor is from nearby Lower Merion, a school that's mostly known for its exploits on the hardwood and producing countless basketball talents—including some guy named Kobe Bryant. However, O'Connor is ready to show that Lower Merion products can also shine on the football field. He enjoyed a career that ended as the Aces' all-time leader in passing yards, breaking a record that stood for nearly 15 years.

As for Watkins, the highly-sought after FCS quarterback fielded over 20 scholarship offers during his recruitment. Despite only playing in five games during his senior season, the dual-threat signal call still tallied 903 passing yards and 10 touchdowns through the air—along with another five scores on the ground. His junior year, Watkins tossed for 2,559 yards, with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. he also ran for 480 yards and 10 scores. He wrapped up his career with 6,000 passing yards.

While they will be competing against each other for playing time—a battle that's certain to heat up throughout pre-season training camp—Ferrante has been impressed with the way they've willingly helped one another.

"I've seen a real nice bonding, the all-important team chemistry that people talk about all the time and try to figure out how to develop it," Ferrante said of his team, as a whole. "I've noticed with the quarterbacks, all seven have been in the film room together. It's not like just these two that have been here with us, and the two new guys on their own, or something like that. They've all been coming in and helping each other out and that's what you need. You need to all come together and gel as a team."

Each quarterback brings his own unique flavor to the field and Ferrante has no shortage of options to choose from.

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