After bursting onto the scene with 1,210 yards and 11 touchdowns his sophomore season for the Wildcats, it appeared Kevin Monangai’s star had faded out at Villanova.
It wasn’t so much that teams had figured him out. Just that ‘Nova quarterback John Robertson was so dynamic — running and passing — there wasn’t room for anyone else to share center stage.
But in last Saturday’s wild 49-31 come-from-behind shootout win over James Madison, with Robertson slowed by a broken non-throwing hand and feeling a bit gimpy, what better time for the old Monangai to return? In a game featuring a staggering 1,131 yards total offense — 563 by the Wildcats -- no one came up bigger than the kid from North Jersey.
Monangai rumbled for 129 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, which leapfrogged him over five players into 5th on Villanova’s all-time rushing list with 2,233 yards. While the next three are within striking distance — including No. 3 Robertson (2,622) -- no one’s catching all-time leader Brian Westbrook (4,499).
To help celebrate Monangai then tuned in to watch former Seton Hall Prep teammate and close friend Sean Maguire rally Florida State past Clemson in overtime.
While Robertson still put up good numbers, 337 yards in the air and a career-high four touchdown passes, it was easy to overlook the 5-foot-8, 205 pound Monangai. Of course by now he’s used to that, seeing his carries drop from 212 to 130 last season while his yardage slipped to 643.
He never complained.
"You can’t really get in a groove like that," said the 21-year-old Monangai, whose parents came from Cameroon, though he was born in Jersey. "In high school I was getting 30 carries, so junior year was adjustment for me.As long as we were winning I was okay with it, but we fell short of expectations."
Knowing for that to change ‘Nova needs more balance, Robertson’s happy to share the load.
"We’re taking it game-by-game," said Roberston, "but we know in the back of our minds we could have a good team. If you want to make it far you can’t have the quarterback take 36 carries a game. We know we need to spread the ball around. Kevin’s a big, physical guy, good at running through people."
While Monangai’s career-best 62-yard second quarter scoring dash up the middle seemed reminiscent of 5-foot-6 Darren Sproles’ game-changing bolt in the Eagles’ opener vs. Jacksonville, that’s not his guy.
"The player I admire most and try to make myself like is Marshawn Lynch," revealed Monangai. "I watch his videos and get that mindset, 'No one can stop you.'Like him, my measurablea are off the charts. This summer I squatted 725 (pounds) and cleaned 265. It definitely helps me.With him, Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles, Terrance West of the Browns -- who I played against in college -- the NFL seems to be taking more of a shift towards shorter guys. That’s a benefit for me."
If nothing else it should help the 2-1 Wildcats, who’ve put up 99 points their last two games after losing a heartbreaking 27-26 double overtime opener at Syracuse. After being limited to just 24 carries and 75 yards the first two games, Andy Talley is happy to have him back.
"Because we have three pretty good running backs Kevin doesn’t get as many runs as he’d like," conceded Talley, whose next order of business will be getting his defense ready for rival Penn Saturday at Franklin Field. "But he’s a beast in the weight room and now he has breakaway speed."
Even better, after spending last season in the shadows, both Kevin Monangai and the Wildcats seem ready to shine again.