By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at Villanova are responsible for being liaisons between their teammates, coaches and athletic administration. Their guidelines say they must be willing to be the "leaders of the pack."
Ben Ijalana must have been an obvious choice for the committee's vice- presidency. On Saturday afternoons over the last three seasons, 6-foot-4, 320- pound Big Ben has been leading Villanova's pack of yardage-chomping ball carriers.
Villanova's top four rushers combined for over 3,000 yards last season, and the Wildcats finished fourth in the FCS in rushing offense (240.3 ypg) while they captured their first national title. Their Sports Network First Team All- America at left tackle will return this fall to create open space again. He is considered the top offensive lineman in the FCS.
Head coach Andy Talley believes Ijalana will be drafted in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, just as fellow CAA Football offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse of Massachusetts did this year with the New York Jets. Ijalana, like Ducasse, may wind up being a guard in the NFL.
"First of all, he's 320 pounds. And he's got great feet. So he's very quick and agile," Talley said. "He's a very athletic offensive lineman. I think in college football and pro football, that's what you're looking for because you end up playing against real fast, speed guys on the edge. It's real hard to get around Ben because he's very quick and he's a big strong guy as well. His pass-protection principles are very good and he's a good run-blocker as well. He's very consistent."
"He's got it all," Talley said.
Elsewhere around the country, It should be a particularly good season for offensive linemen in the Missouri Valley Football Conference as three players - David Arkin of Missouri State, Ryan McKnight of South Dakota State and David Pickard of Southern Illinois - help comprise our FCS Top 10:
David Arkin, Missouri State, Senior - The 2009 All-MVFC first-team selection is majoring in construction management, which is no surprise because he prefers to bulldoze the competition. The 6-5, 302-pound guard hasn't missed a start in his career - making 33 straight - and is especially strong in pass protection. Bears offensive line coach Sean Coughlin calls Arkin "physical, relentless and dominant."
Johnny Culbreath, South Carolina State, Senior - What the 6-6, 298 left tackle likes to do is dominate opposing linemen. The fact that the 2009 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year has allowed only two sacks throughout his career indicates just how well he is doing that. Culbreath is athletic and powerful, and drives off the ball with his quick feet.
Pat Illig, Wofford, Senior - Where's the beef? The leader of last year's No. 2-ranking rushing offense in the FCS (270.2 ypg) is 6-5, 330 pounds. Terriers offensive line coach Eric Nash lauds his left guard for being a tenacious competitor with a high motor and preparing himself to face opponents. He puts his strength, size and feet into his playing style. A Southern Conference first-team selection, Illig has averaged 98.3 knockdown blocks in each of his first three seasons.
Ryan McKnight, South Dakota State, Senior - A former walk-on, McKnight has made himself into arguably the top center in the FCS. The 6-1, 295-pounder combines great technique and aggressiveness with intelligent play. He went from being a part-time starter in 2008 to earning MVFC first-team honors last season. He again will be blocking for standout running back Kyle Minett.
Mike Person, Montana State, Senior - Person's style of trying to outwork everybody else on the field inspires teammates. The 6-5, 292-pounder has played guard for the Bobcats, but was so dominant in pushing around defenders during spring practices that he has been moved to left tackle. He has excellent mobility, can read defensive schemes and has gotten stronger this offseason. He was named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team last year.
David Pickard, Southern Illinois, Junior - Among a big group of senior standouts last season, the 6-5, 290-pound left tackle was chosen to The Sports Network's Third Team All-America squad as a sophomore. He's entering his third year as a starter and has outstanding technique. He's solid in every way and doesn't make many mistakes. The Salukis ranked fifth in the FCS in rushing offense (221.1 ypg) last season.
Will Rackley, Lehigh, Senior - Standing 6-4, 310 pounds, Rackley is the strongest player on the Mountain Hawks' roster - he can bench press 440 pounds - and he uses the strength wisely on the field. He's active on the line and understands how to play the left tackle position. He's made the Patriot League first team in each of the past two seasons.
Mark Tos, UC Davis, Senior - A Great West Conference first-team selection, Tos brings both size (6-6, 290) and athleticism to the tackle position. He's smart and savvy, and puts his long arms to good use in fending off defenders. His great balance pays dividends for the Aggies' passing offense, which ranked 12th in the FCS last season.