Villanova QB Robertson grounded amid lofty expectations

Villanova QB Robertson grounded amid lofty expectations
August 18, 2014, 6:00 pm
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Villanova junior QB John Robertson accounted for 3,362 total yards and 33 touchdowns last season. (USA Today Images)

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- John Robertson has set school records, racked up national awards and heads into his junior season at Villanova as undoubtedly one of the premier players in the Football Championship Subdivision.

That doesn't stop his roommates from telling him to clean his room.

“My roommates kind of help keep me down,” Robertson laughed during Monday's media day at Villanova Stadium. “If I don't clean something up, they might start yelling at me.”

Luckily for the 12th-ranked Wildcats -- who open their highly anticipated 2014 season on Aug. 29 at Syracuse -- they don’t need their quarterback to keep his room tidy. They just need him to continue to cleanly pick apart defenses like he did last season, when the standout QB threw for 1,957 yards and 13 touchdowns, ran for 1,405 yards and 20 touchdowns and set the program record for the highest completion percentage at 68.4.

Not surprisingly, after putting up numbers like that, Robertson comes into the 2014 season with the national spotlight pointed directly at him. The electric junior was named to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award (given to the top FCS player), was selected as a third team preseason FCS All-American by the Sports Network and, most recently, was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason offensive player of the year.

And all of those accolades are well-deserved, according to longtime Villanova head coach Andy Talley.

“He’s been sensational in the preseason,” said Talley, who’s entering his 30th season at Villanova’s helm. “If there’s a better quarterback in the country, I’d like to see him.”

Despite the lofty preseason expectations, Robertson tries his best to stay grounded. On Monday, he joked with reporters that the best part about winning awards is simply knowing that his parents will get excited about them. And besides, if he ever needs help avoiding getting a big head, he knows he can count on his roommates: senior defensive back Joe Sarnese, senior tight end and long snapper Morgan Craig and junior safety Matt McCann.

“He doesn't seem to pay too much attention to [the awards] but sometimes they get thrown in his face and it's kind of hard not to,” Sarnese said. “As soon as we bring him back down to earth, he laughs about it. ... We just kind of make fun of him until he’s like, 'All right, I’ll shut up now.'"

Whether he's getting on him about being messy in their apartment or goofing around with him on campus -- “We’re both kind of goofy, and every so often we'll catch people giving us a weird look,” Sarnese laughed -- the defensive back knows Robertson as well as anyone. And so when he talks about Robertson’s game and how much improvement he's seen in the quarterback since last season, he's a good person to listen to on the subject.

“With me going against him [in practice], he's definitely gotten better in a bunch of aspects in his game, especially looking off safeties and stuff,” Sarnese said. “I can definitely tell from the past few years that he's improved his throwing game and decision-making.

“It’s definitely scary to think John Robertson can get any better.”

It's also scary to think Robertson had the year he had last season while playing through pain in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, an injury that got even worse when he stiff-armed a player against Rhode Island in the second-to-last game.

But Robertson had labrum surgery in January and, after about six months in rehab, said he's feeling better than ever.

“Now I'm full go,” he said. “I feel great. Even when I wasn't playing with the team, I was out here every day [of spring practice] and trying to talk to the guys when they came to the sideline and just let them know what they need to do.”

It’s doing those kind of little things -- encouraging teammates even while hurt -- that shows that Robertson doesn’t have much of an ego, even as he's become the face of the team.

And with their elite quarterback remaining even-keeled while getting stronger and healthier, the Wildcats are thinking big as they hope to return to the FCS playoffs after a rare one-year absence and contend for a conference -- and national -- championship

“For all the attention he's getting, he's pretty modest about it,” Sarnese said. “And that's something that's very admirable about him.”

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