For Sam Houston head coach K. C. Keeler and many of his assistant coaches, this weekend’s FCS quarterfinals opponent Villanova is a familiar foe.
As head coach at Delaware, Keeler and Wildcats head coach Andy Talley faced each other as arch rivals and conference opponents in the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association 11 times.
“We know Villanova very well,” Keeler said. “I have such respect for Andy Talley and his staff. This team is very well coached. We had some great battles while I was at Delaware and we will have another great game this Saturday up in Pennsylvania.”
Talley has produced a record of 215 victories, 127 losses and a tie in his 30 seasons at Villanova. The Wildcats have been in FCS post-season play 11 times and won the 2009 national championship.
Keeler’s association with Talley goes back to the Bearkat head coach’s days at the helm of the Rowan University program at the NCAA Division III level.
“When I was a Division III coach, I spent a lot of time at Villanova watching what Coach Talley and his team does. When I was out of football last year, Andy invited me over to spring training. We’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve learned a lot about coaching from him. I have great respect for what they do.”
Villanova is seeded No. 5 in the FCS playoffs and finished as runner-up to No. 1 seed New Hampshire in the CAA race this fall. The Wildcats own an 11-2 record. Their two losses each were by only one point as they fell 27-26 in two overtimes at Syracuse and 10-9 at Richmond.
Keeler has seen many of their current players perform up close and personal and also has great respect for Villanova quarterback John Robertson, the CAA offensive player of the year.
“The quarterback has ‘It.’ We will see guys who are faster than him and guys with stronger arms, but no one does it better than he does,” Keeler said. “I’ve seen him practicing. He doesn’t wow you until, at the end of the day, you look at what he’s done and look at the numbers he puts up.
“He’s very decisive. When he makes a decision, he either pulls the ball down and makes the yards with his feet or extends the play and throws the ball downfield. He is a real winner and definitely what makes Villanova go.”
Sam Houston is the only unseeded team that has reached the quarterfinals. The Bearkats defeated two top 10 ranked opponents to get there, knocking off No. 9 Southeastern Louisiana 21-17 in Huntsville then defeating No. 3 Jacksonville State 37-26 on the road.
“We playing well right now,” Keeler said. “We had to come from behind in each of our last three games and that shows a lot of character. We have great chemistry. This group is as much fun to coach as any I’ve ever had.”
Since fans learned the Bearkats would be traveling to Pennsylvania to play the Wildcats, Keeler gotten a lot of attention about Sam Houston’s weekend destination.
“I’ve gotten so many text messages about how I’m going back home,” Keeler said. “But, no, Texas is home now. We really love it here. I was blessed to get the opportunity to be the head coach here at Sam Houston. The support here is unbelievable. I have a tremendous athletic director and president. We’ve really enjoy the people and the support. We’re home. We’re just going back East this weekend.”
Kickoff Saturday is at 12:03 p.m. Huntsville time. The game will be telecast on ESPN3.
Bob Picozzi, who will call the play-by-play, also is a close friend of Keeler’s. The pair announced five college football games together for ESPN last year.
“Have Bob in the telecast this week is an extra special bonus,” Keeler said. “My first game with Bob was my first game ever in the booth. He did so much to help me. He’s a pro and fans who watch the telecast will really enjoy the job he does.”