VILLANOVA, Pa. - Norman White looked like a man among boys at Villanova University's football practice Monday, and in a sense he was.
White, a receiver who at 6-foot-4 towers over most of his teammates, might be in an NFL training camp right now if not for a foot injury that cost him all of last season.
Instead, the fifth-year senior from Hammonton is expected to be one of the best players in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). White, a St. Joseph High School graduate, was named a preseason second-team All-American in the FCS by The Sports Network.
"Norm is probably the best receiver in the (Colonial Athletic Association) and a pro prospect," Villanova coach Andy Talley said Monday.
White, 22, hurt his left foot on the third day of training camp last year. He came back for a scrimmage shortly before the season opener against Temple but reinjured the foot and had to sit out the season with both a Lisfranc sprain and a fracture.
Without White, redshirt freshman quarterback Dustin Thomas, a St. Augustine Prep alumnus, struggled and the Wildcats went 2-9, a disappointing season for a team that won the FCS national title in 2009 and reached the semifinals in 2010. White had 69 catches for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010.
"It was really hard," White said. "It wasn't even the fact that we were losing. It was the fact that I couldn't be out there with my (graduating) class and my teammates. ... I just wish I would've played with them and helped them to a better season."
White spent the offseason training on the Main Line, working with new quarterback Chris Poloney and Thomas, who has moved to wide receiver.
"He looks as good as he has been since I've been here, so I'm excited to see what he can do this year," said Thomas.
The left foot still gets sore, White said, and Talley gives him off from practice every other day. But when White gets on the field, he goes full-speed.
"We just don't want to wear him out in preseason because he's an established player and you really know what he can do," Talley said.
NFL scouts have been interested in what White can do. Three already have attended Villanova practices, Talley said.
"They look at him as a possession receiver," the coach said. "He's got great hands. He runs really great routs. He's disciplined. He's smart."
On Monday, White didn't look like a player who had missed all of last season. He caught several deep passes during 11-on-11 drills.
"I don't think he's missed a step," said starting cornerback Craig James, an Oakcrest alumnus who frequently has to cover White in practice. "All his breaks are still on point, and his speed is still there."
White, who lives with James and Mainland Regional alumnus Antoine Lewis, constantly talked with his teammates during breaks in practice Monday. He's a team captain for the second year in a row and takes the responsibility seriously.
"(Last season), I had to try and lead the team off the field, which is really hard," White said. "So it makes it kind of easier leading on the field now. I'm actually with them, running around, sweating with them, getting tired, you know, all that stuff."
But White's biggest contribution this season will be making plays and scoring touchdowns. Talley said the lack of a go-to receiver was one of the team's biggest problems last season.
"Just having him on the field, his presence and everything is going to change the game totally for us," said Lewis, a preseason all-CAA defensive tackle. "I think he's ahead of where he left off, actually. ... He's coming back stronger than ever."
White said he's not thinking about the NFL right now. He's focused on helping the team get back to winning. While he regrets having to watch his original class go out with a 2-9 season, he said this is an opportunity to help another group of seniors leave on a positive note.
"(Missing an entire season) was kind of hard, but it is what it is," he said. "It happened. Everything happens for a reason. Hopefully there's a good reason."
Notes: James, Lewis and safety Joe Sarnese, a Holy Spirit graduate, give the Cape-Atlantic League three starters on the Villanova defense. In addition to White and Thomas, Buena Regional alumnus Kenny Miles returns at receiver. St. Augustine Prep graduate Chris Gough is the front-runner to handle kickoffs. Justin Rhinesmith (Middle Township) and Nico D'Angelo (Holy Spirit) are backup offensive linemen. ... The Wildcats open the season Aug. 31 against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Talley said Villanova won't play Temple again in the foreseeable future, though, since the Wildcats have scheduled openers against Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Connecticut for the next three seasons.
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