Receiver Poppy Livers is Villanova's small wonder

Villanova wide receiver Poppy Livers. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)

Poppy Livers, a Villanova cocaptain and the team's leading returning receiver, has the same conversation almost every day with 'Nova receivers coach Brian Flinn.

"He tells me I'm 5-[foot-]3 every day," Livers said Monday at Villanova's media day. "His favorite thing to say is: 'You wake up with leverage on other people.' "

In fact, Livers said, it was Flinn who noticed that a walk-on, officially listed at 5-foot-7, belonged on the field.

"He didn't care if I was black, white, green - 6 feet," Livers said.

Now a senior, Livers led the Wildcats last season with 53 catches for 580 yards, good for three touchdowns. Villanova quarterback John Robertson said opponents have sometimes given 6-foot-2 receivers single coverage while doubling the 5-7 guy.

"I'll drop back, roll around - I'll pop my head up and I'll see he's just flying to an open area," Robertson said. "He's always open."

Livers received a scholarship two years ago. Does he put some pressure on himself or is he free and easy now?

"I think Poppy is a guy who does put some pressure on himself," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "He's the little engine that could. He's the walk-on receiver that worked his way up to become a scholarship player and then become a captain of the team. It's not done very often. He wants to be good on every play."

Villanova, which opens Aug. 29 at Syracuse, has a track record of giving players a chance even if their numbers are a little outside the box. Not that the Wildcats could have predicted Livers' success - if so, they would have given him the scholarship up front.

"If you watch us practice, our second- and third-team guys get tons of reps," Flinn said. "They're going to get on film. It's not like they're just here holding bags, not learning the offense. Especially this time of the year, playing receiver. You get run into the ground."

Robertson gets the most preseason accolades, but Livers is one of the reasons Villanova is picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association and 12th nationally despite coming off a disappointing 6-5 season.

"Everybody says, 'Oh, he's the hardest working kid on the team,' " Flinn said of Livers, who is from Seaside, Calif. "It's almost a cliché."

It is a cliché.

"But it's him to a fault," Flinn said. "It's like coaching somebody from the 1950s. You just tell him to do something, he does it correctly. He does it twice as fast as he probably should. His work habits - his quickness, his route running . . . he's emerged into the best kid that we have."

He knows he's still going to get razzed.

Asked about Livers as he walked by, Villanova offensive coordinator Sam Venuto deadpanned, "I just tell the quarterbacks to throw it low."