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A Look Back at Brian Westbrook’s Illustrious Villanova Career

The former Wildcat great is on his way to the College Football Hall of Fame this year.

NCAA Basketball - Connecticut vs Villanova - February 13, 2006 Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The 2023 College Football Hall of Fame class is as decorated as they come with guys like Reggie Bush, Dwight Freeney and Tim Tebow headlining an ultra impressive list. Over in Pennsylvania, though, a different name pops out in this year’s inductee slate. Brian Westbrook — a player who left arguably the biggest football impact on the state — now finds himself alongside the sport’s all-time greats.

Philadelphia Eagles fans know his name all too well. Westbrook was there for one of the golden ages of Philly football, helping the Eagles reach three consecutive NFC Championship Games and qualify for their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Before all that, he was making a name for himself just 17 miles west at Villanova University — an unlikely place to rise onto the football scene in the late 90s.

Super Bowl XXXIX
Brian Westbrook carries the ball for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX against New England in February 2005.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For a school whose athletics were encompassed almost entirely by a basketball program that had brought home a historic national championship in 1985, Wildcat football was not typically at the forefront of most folks’ rooting interest. They were a small Division I-AA team that was still seeking their first playoff win and had very few reasons to draw a crowd. When Westbrook came aboard in 1997, however, it flipped a switch.

Hailing from Fort Washington, Maryland and playing high school ball at DeMatha Catholic High School, Westbrook came in with lofty expectations. He was fresh off earning First-Team All-League honors as a senior which compelled then-Villanova head coach Andy Talley to bring him aboard for the 1997 season.

During his freshman year, Westbrook didn’t put up any numbers that popped off the stat sheet but he did flash his versatility. On top of rushing for 429 yards, he caught four touchdown passes. More significantly to the program, though, he helped the Wildcats finish the regular season unbeaten and claim the Atlantic 10 title. The team entered the postseason as the #1 seed but were still searching for that elusive first-ever playoff win.

Westbrook, as fans would soon see, was big in big moments, and Villanova’s first round game against the Patriot League champion Colgate Raiders certainly fit that description.

In that playoff atmosphere, Westbrook rose to the occasion and toted the ball 17 times for 104 yards while notching three touchdowns, all in different ways. After hauling in a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Boden in the second quarter, he broke free on an electrifying 89-yard kickoff return and took it in for his second score of the day. In the fourth quarter he put Colgate away with a 4-yard scoring run. When all was said and done, the freshman finished with 271 all-purpose yards and emphatically gave the Wildcats that coveted postseason win.

Although the superb ‘97 season came to an end one week later, it was a mere glimpse of what was to come for the young Westbrook.

In 1998 he blew the gates wide open. In 11 games he rushed for 1,046 yards and 15 touchdowns. As stellar as he was on the ground, he actually finished the season with more receiving yards (1,114) along with another 15 scores in that facet. It was a campaign that had not been seen in college football at any level up to that point. Westbrook would become the first NCAA player ever to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving in the same year. On top of all that, he registered 644 kickoff return yards and led all DI-AA players in scoring with 160 points.

By now it was clear that Villanova had an all-timer with Westbrook and it seemed that his junior season would see even greater heights for both him and the program. Unfortunately though, he wouldn’t get his chance that year. After suffering a knee injury before the season, Talley announced that Westbrook would be sidelined for the entire 1999 campaign. He opted to use his medical redshirt to retain two years of eligibility. Without Westbrook, Villanova went 7-4 and failed to reach the playoffs.

The 2000 season brought a new sense of energy, and the now-healthy Westbrook picked up right where he left off two years prior. Although the receiving yardage numbers went down, the rushing numbers escalated in a big way. He racked up 1,220 yards and 15 touchdowns and, in doing so, became the first — and to date, only — DI-AA (now FCS) player to score 160 points twice in his career.

It all came to a fitting and spectacular end during his senior season in 2001. The final jewel in Westbrook’s magnificent college career was his 1,603 rushing yards that fall; a herculean effort that earned him the Walter Payton Award — an accolade given annually to the FCS’s best offensive player. He averaged over 145 rushing yards per game in 2001 and racked up a season-best 22 touchdowns.

When all was said and done, he had worked himself to the top of Villanova’s history books with 4,499 career rushing yards. Even more impressively he picked up the NCAA record for career all-purpose yards with 9,512. Both are astonishing marks that will likely stand for a long time. He also still holds the FCS record for most points scored by a non-kicker (544).

This December he will receive the recognition he deserves when he gets enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame. Westbrook will be the first Villanova player to receive such an honor and only the second member of the program to do so, as he joins none other than his former coach Andy Talley.

You cannot tell the story of Villanova football without Brian Westbrook. Along with the aforementioned accomplishments, he holds 40 other school records and several other A-10 (now CAA) marks. It was the cherry on top for fans in the area that the hometown Eagles selected him in the 2002 NFL Draft but his time at Villanova was arguably just as impactful. At a time where ‘Nova football sought a breath of life, Westbrook was the much-need fresh air.