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Pitt safety Ventrone lands Villanova scholarship

| Sunday, July 15, 2007

Until last year, Ross Ventrone sheepishly admits, his driver's license listed him at 5-foot-2. It might as well have read: Too small to play football.

When Ventrone finally hit his growth spurt, before his senior year at Chartiers Valley High School, a torn hamstring limited his football season to four games.

That explains why, even after sprouting to 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, and making Pitt's football team as a preferred walk-on, Ventrone didn't want to sell himself short.

He believed he was capable of being more than a special teams player. What he didn't expect was to earn a scholarship to Division I-AA Villanova.

"I never thought this would happen," said Ventrone, a redshirt sophomore safety who has three seasons of eligibility remaining and can play immediately. "It's crazy for me. I only played one year in high school, and I didn't even play that many games because I got hurt."

Villanova coach Andy Talley said the Wildcats rarely accept transfers. Even more unusual is that Ventrone never recorded a tackle for the Panthers, so Villanova had to make its evaluation based on video highlights of his play in Pitt's practices and scrimmages this past spring.

"He had a lot of speed and could hit," Talley said. "We kind of rolled the dice."

It was a calculated risk. Ross' older brother, Raymond, was a four-year starter who ranks as one of Villanova's all-time greats. The little brother was only an inch shorter, a few pounds lighter and maybe a step slower at the same age.

"Being a Ventrone, we obviously were interested," Talley said. "He has great bloodlines."

After spending two seasons with the New England Patriots, Raymond now plays safety for the N.Y. Jets. He couldn't be happier for Ross, who was the best man in Raymond's wedding last weekend.

"It's a dream come true for me, too, because I had such a great experience at Villanova," Raymond said. "Hopefully, he'll do the same and repeat it all over again."

Following in Raymond's footsteps may be "awesome," but Ross also is eager to escape his brother's shadow at Villanova.

"I want to make my own name," Ventrone said. "That's what I liked about Pitt. Everyone knew me as Ross."

At Pitt's practices, Ross Ventrone was known for playing with reckless abandon. That made him a valuable member of special teams coordinator Charlie Partridge's "Block Party" unit, which simulates a rush on punts.

"I don't think he played one snap. I don't think he even covered a kickoff," Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said, "but he would block a punt or two every week. He would do whatever you ask him to do. He wouldn't question it and did it to the best of his ability.

"It couldn't happen to a better kid or a more hard-working kid. I've seen a number of walk-ons come into a program and, honestly, work harder than a scholarship player and scratch their head and wonder why they can't get the same benefits. It's rewarding to see him get a scholarship."

Now, after two years in relative obscurity at Pitt, Ventrone wants to reward Villanova for taking a chance on him.

"All the opportunities I got at Pitt gave me the chances I have now," Ventrone said. "I just want a shot to play to prove I can play. Until I get on the field, I can't say. But I'm confident in what I can do."

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