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How Soccer Prepared Villanova's Michael Corbi For American Football

How Soccer Prepared Villanova's Michael Corbi For American Football

Offensive linemen are known for size, power and strength. Villanova's Michael Corbi offers something not always seen on a 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame: speed.

Sep 10, 2022 by Stephen Kerr
How Soccer Prepared Villanova's Michael Corbi For American Football

Offensive linemen are known for their size, power and brute strength. But Villanova guard Michael Corbi offers something else not always seen in a 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame: speed.

The Arnold, Maryland, native not only can pancake block with the best, he can wreak havoc in the open field pulling or getting out in front of screens.

Corbi has become one of the top linemen in the CAA, despite getting a late start. Football was not his main sport growing up, at least not the American version. 

He began playing soccer at an early age. His interest in that sport grew out of a family vacation to Italy when he was 6 years old. It was 2006, the year Italy won the World Cup, and Corbi watched a number of matches on television while he was there.

"I was 6 years old, but I can remember vividly watching people on the news jump in the fountain, the fireworks and just the passion for soccer," Corbi recalled. "I fell in love with the sport, and I've always been an Italy fan."

Corbi was tall for his age but not overly big. By eighth grade, he started getting heavier. His father, Tony, a former defensive end at Towson, encouraged him to start playing football. As much as he enjoyed soccer, he didn't see it as a ticket to the collegiate level, so he decided to give football a try.

"(My dad) always wanted me to play football," Corbi said. "He never pushed it because he knew I loved soccer, but the second I was ready to play football, he was definitely excited."

Corbi started out on the JV squad at Mount Saint Joseph High School as a 5-foot-8, 200-pound lineman. After joining the varsity team, he grew both physically and from a talent standpoint. 

Having quick feet in soccer helped ease the transition to offensive lineman. Corbi even played some on the defensive line in his senior year, which made his dad proud.

"My dad was eager, almost a little too eager, to coach at times," Corbi said. "I had a lot of balance and felt very comfortable going backward. With o-line, it was about work ethic and being more competitive."

Though soccer had been Corbi's passion growing up, football certainly wasn't foreign to him. Tony had season tickets to Baltimore Ravens games, and Michael often would accompany him. 

By the time he graduated from Mount Saint Joseph, Corbi had earned three varsity letters in football and was a first-team All-MIAA honoree. He also earned letters in rugby and indoor track and field.

Corbi had an interest in engineering in high school and took a trip to visit Villanova as a regular student. He liked the campus and the fact the school had a top engineering program, so he sent football film to the coaching staff. He didn't receive a response at first. 

Bucknell showed interest and even offered a scholarship. Corbi briefly thought about giving up football altogether and attending Virginia Tech, his mother Trisha's alma mater.

During his senior year of high school, Corbi decided to send a video to Villanova once more. This time, he got a response and went for a visit as a football recruit. His host turned out to be Colin Gamroth, now a graduate senior and teammate of Corbi's on the offensive line.

"I clicked with Gamroth right away," Corbi recalled. "The people here, the campus, the academic support... I was blown away by the fact that people could compete at such a high level but also exceed academically at such a rigorous institution. I wanted to commit right away."

The only hitch was that Corbi had scheduled a recruiting trip to Bucknell the following week. After that visit, he still chose Villanova, even though they offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on.

Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante was as impressed by Corbi's persistence and intelligence as his football talent.

"We're kind of limited in our roster spots," Ferrante explained. "It takes a little time to evaluate who those guys are going to be. He pursued us as hard as we pursued him. We're glad he did. He's developed himself through his hard work and intelligence."

Corbi redshirted his freshman year and was a backup until the 2020-2021 season. 

When he first arrived on campus, the strength and conditioning staff went about reshaping his body. He lost 90 pounds before building back up to playing weight for an offensive lineman. They also changed his diet to include more chicken and green vegetables.

"It wasn't that I was eating too much, I was just eating the wrong type of stuff," Corbi explained. "It was more education than it was dieting."

The 2020-2021 spring/fall season was Corbi's first as a starter. He earned first-team All-CAA honors, starting all four games at center. The Wildcats averaged 398.2 yards per game of total offense that season, including a 208.2 rushing average.

Last season, he was named a second-team All-American by both the Associated Press and Stats Perform. He started 12 games at left guard on a line that gave up just 14 sacks all season. The Wildcats' offense ranked second in the CAA averaging 30.1 points per game and 380.0 yards of total offense per game.

Corbi attributes his individual success to the players around him on the line, particularly Gamroth.

"Me and Colin probably watch at least 20 hours of film a week trying to get ready for a game," he said. "It's a team game. Having people like Colin next to you, I think he's one of the finest human beings I've ever met in my life."

Corbi missed spring practices to have surgery on a shoulder injury that had been bothering him for quite some time. 

This season, he's the starting right guard, proving he can play multiple positions. He was voted a Stats Perform and Athlon Sports FCS Preseason All-American and earned a spot on the the CAA Preseason All-Conference Team.

"He can play almost anywhere," Ferrante said. "He's smart enough, athletic and skilled enough to play any of those positions."

One of Corbi's biggest losses occurred over a year ago off the field. His best friend from high school, Noah Blonder, was killed in a car accident. 

Blonder was a junior hockey player, and the two became friends shortly after Corbi arrived at Mount Saint Joseph. Corbi writes the inscription, 'NB25' on his wrist before every game to honor his friend's memory.

"It really puts things in perspective that life is short," Corbi said. "It's a reminder (to) give it your all. You don't know if you have tomorrow."

As immersed as he is in football, Corbi still follows soccer closely. He plays FIFA on his Xbox and isn't shy about sharing his numbers.

"I can say proudly that I am 38-0 on the team," he said. "It's not an easy competition, but no one likes the game as much as I do."

Corbi graduated with a psychology degree last spring and will finish his engineering degree this December. He has another year of playing eligibility next season but hasn't yet decided whether to use it. He's also considering medical school. Then, there's the possibility of a shot at the NFL to consider.

It's always good to have options, but Corbi is focused on the season.

"There's personal accolades I'd like to attain, but not more than repeating as a CAA champ and competing for a national championship," Corbi said.