While the rest of the Villanova football team spent spring rehabbing from a remarkable plague of injuries, running back Aaron Forbes worked out — and worked out, and worked out.
The senior from Newburgh, N.Y., is built like a wrecking ball in the Doug Martin mold: short (5-foot-9), stocky and surprisingly swift. But now he's a little bit less stocky than before. Forbes dropped 18 pounds to get down to 220, and he's aiming to drop about five more before he hits midseason form.
"He's done a great job in the offseason, because he probably got a little heavy the year before," said head coach Mark Ferrante after the Wildcats' open practice on Monday. "He's a little leaner and lighter, but he's faster and stronger."
Last year, while most of the other major on-field contributors and off-field leaders — quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, tight end Ryan Bell and fellow running back Matt Gudzak, plus safety Rob Rolle ("The quarterback of the defense," as Ferrante described him) — dropped like flies, Forbes was one of Villanova's few and much-needed constants, even if he wasn't singlehandedly lighting up opponents.
Forbes didn't put up gaudy stats — 568 rushing yards over 11 games (for an average of 51.6 yards per game), plus 124 receiving yards — but that was still enough to rank second on the team, behind only Bednarczyk, in all-purpose yards. Another indication of Villanova's injury-induced offensive troubles: Forbes didn't have a single rushing touchdown. In 2016, when he ran for 799 yards over 13 games, he had eight rushing scores.
"You've got to realize football is a contact sport and a lot of freak injuries can happen. You could get your foot caught in the turf and that could be the end of your season," said Forbes. "We had a significant amount of them, but honestly we just put that season behind us and we're focusing on this year."
Forbes said he stepped up in Bednarczyk and others' absences to become more of a vocal leader last season, and his teammates clearly noticed, voting him one of their captains for this coming fall.
He'll fortunately have a lot more help around him this time. Gudzak, now a fifth-year senior, is back in the fold, as is last year's second-leading rusher, now-sophomore Justin Covington. And the offensive line tasked with opening up his running lanes could be the best in the Colonial Athletic Association, as it returns four starters (including preseason FCS All-American Ethan Greenidge) from last year's unit.
If the Wildcats are to avenge 2017's struggles and surpass their preseason projection of sixth in the 12-team CAA — a ranking that Ferrante said some players have discussed as "disrespectful" — a steadier ground attack, spearheaded by Forbes and helping take attention off Bednarczyk, could be the key.