Walking around talking to people after Saturday's victory over Lehigh, Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante ran into the parents of his slot receiver, Jarrett McClenton.
"Now, we're seeing the the guy I thought I recruited,'' Ferrante told McClenton's mother.
Mom wasn't put off by the comment.
"I know, right?'' she said back to Ferrante.
McClenton had been a big-time running back at Archbishop Wood, converted into a receiver at Villanova, where he has been completely serviceable, not a disappointment. But not a star. This season? A star.
The winning touchdown against Temple came on a play where McClenton saw Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk scrambling on fourth and nine and realized he had to burn it to get across the field. He got open for the game-winner, 30 yards.
Against Lehigh, McClenton upped the ante. Two TD catches, the first for 62 yards, another for 28 as the Wildcats rolled, 31-9, moving up to 10th nationally in the FCS rankings. Ferrante noted that after a Lehigh defender couldn't make the tackle on the big gainer — "there probably was a seam down the sideline no wider than a yard and he got through it and then went into the end zone untouched."
To say McClenton was a high school star is just touching the surface. At Wood, he was two-time all state, three-time All-Catholic League, all-time leading rusher, rushed for 37 TDs in a season, carried 40 times for 238 yards in one state title game, 23 times for 233 yards in another.
How did the big Power-Five schools pass on all that? There are other numbers: 5-foot-7, 155 pounds. Villanova has specialized on getting undersized stars and then figuring out what to do with them, going back to Brian Westbrook. They had no doubts about wanting McClenton. Ferrante, Villanova's offensive line coach at the time, was the main recruiter.
"He came here at 143 pounds — we joke he was 143 pounds of concrete,'' said Villanova wide receivers coach Brian Flinn. "He never gets hurts, he never misses a practice."
Actually, he has gotten hurt, still hasn't missed a practice. His first two seasons, McClenton would walk around kind of shaking his left hand. Flinn remembers asking if he was all right. Fine, McClenton would say. Actually, it was a torn ligament in his thumb.
"I finally got surgery after sophomore year,'' McClenton said. "It affected me a lot. If it would get it a certain way it would start hurting a lot. I had to kind of deal with that. The pain would go away but it could come back at any time."
Catching the ball?
"Yeah, the ball just hitting my hand,'' McClenton said. "It would last — if it happened in a game — it would last a couple of plays. Once it got hit again, it would last for a couple of plays again and then go away."
Last season, McClenton's thumb was fine but a spree of injuries swamped Villanova's team, derailing the season. His coaches give McClenton credit for just staying with it, going hard.
Playing him in the slot adds wrinkles. Villanova is hoping a linebacker ends up matched up with one of their fastest guys. At their level, a nickel back could still represent an advantage.
"He's straight-line fast, he's quick, but the intangible stuff is kind of what separates him,'' said Flinn, the receivers coach. "Again, he can physically put with stuff a lot of people can't."
An ankle injury in the spring meant McClenton spent extra time on campus over the summer in the training room, which also meant more time working on timing with Bednarcyk. If they couldn't find a place on campus, they'd go down the road to Radnor High School.
The work showed up immediately, and the case can be made the Temple win doesn't happen without it.
"At the same time, it was still just a play,'' McClenton said of the game-winner. "We still had to play football."
Just because it isn't surprising anybody, doesn't mean one play can't change a season or even a career.
"A confidence builder, big time,'' Ferrante said of what meant for the little guy made of concrete.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. at Villanova Stadium
TV, radio, online streaming: Fox College Sports Atlantic, 610 ESPN, FoxSportsGo.com
Records: Villanova 2-0, 0-0 in CAA; Towson 1-1, 0-0 in CAA
Coaches: Mark Ferrante (7-6) in second season at Villanova; Rob Amrose (56-62) in 10th season at Towson
Series history: Villanova won 24-9 last season and leads the all-time series 9-5
1. Towson has surrendered 45 of the 61 points it has given up in the first half. Villanova has scored 33 of its 50 points in the first half so the Wildcats will be looking to jump to a quick start. Towson has also scored a lot early so this could be a shootout.
2. Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk is off to a strong start having completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 469 yards with six touchdowns. His favorite targets have been tight end Ryan Lewis (14 rec, 143 yds, 2 TDs) and wide receiver Jarett McClenton (11 rec, 177 yds, 3 TDs).
3. Villanova's defense has only given up two touchdowns through the first two games. The Wildcats have allowed just 78 net rushing yards while holding the opposition to 1.7 yards per carry and no touchdowns. The longest play against them has been a 23-yard pass.