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Villanova coach Andy Talley compared the story of Wildcats fifth-year senior Tony Canci to a Philadelphia legend.

"Remember the movie 'Invincible'? He's our Vince Papale," Talley said. "He makes all those plays on special teams. He's a guy who realized he can't be a starter on offense, so he said he'd become a starter on special teams."

Canci had an outstanding prep career, which includes the Pennsylvania state record of eight touchdowns in one game and Delaware County single-season rushing records of 2,323 yards and 32 touchdowns.

But Villanova had better running backs when he arrived, and mononucleosis stripped him of what would have been his first season and the following spring.

Yet in his first game as a redshirt freshman, he blocked a punt against Towson, drawing the attention of the coaching staff. That one play earned him a spot on the kickoff team and eventually all special-teams squads except field-goal defense.

"I blocked a punt against Towson again this year," Canci said. "I just love playing special teams in general. You make a play and everybody gets on you."

This year, Canci has also played in goal-line situations. He's caught six passes -- four for touchdowns -- in his final year.

"I came back for one more, and this is where I'm standing, in Chattanooga right before the championship game," Canci said. "It's where I've always dreamed."

Jonathan Bugli's father may have had bragging rights until this season.

Paul Bugli was an offensive guard for Villanova in the late 1970s with future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Howie Long on the other side of the ball every day in practice.

But he never played for a national championship like his son will do tonight.

"They played for bowl games when my dad played, and they had a couple of coaching changes," Bugli said. "They never got to a bowl game.

"As far as career wins, I've got him beat."

Bugli can also boast about the ability to play four of five positions on the offensive line and about earning a scholarship in his last season after beginning his career as a walk-on.

"I've been shifted and moved around, and I've played everything but center," said Bugli, who will start the championship game at right tackle. "Last year, I was the sixth man and rotated everywhere. This year, too, I've played everywhere."

Even though Bugli is a second-generation player, coach Andy Talley didn't take his recruitment lightly. He knew the family history and saw that the 6-foot-5 kid from Newburyport, Mass., had potential if he added some mass.

"His dad played with Howie Long and was a very fine lineman," Talley said. "He's done a phenomenal job and won a scholarship in his fifth year. That's a work ethic that's pretty unbelievable."

Amid the position shuffles and injuries for the Wildcats offensive line, tackle Ben Ijalana has been a constant. And not only this year.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior was pushed into lineup the day he set foot on Villanova's campus, starting all 38 games of his career. That includes 14 starts this year as the Wildcats have been battered by injuries to the point that current redshirt lineman Josh Bucci may be forced into his first action of the season tonight.

"The injuries affect us, sure, but our coaches do a great job," Ijalana said, "and the parts are interchangeable. The six-man system means everyone has to know different roles."

Anchoring the front at left tackle, the Walter Camp All-American has been mentioned among the top NFL prospects in the FCS, and that's with his senior year still ahead.

"I mainly line up on the right side, so I don't know how much I'll go up against him," Montana defensive end Jace Palmer said, "but you can see on tape what kind of player he is."

Postseason superlatives -- Ijalana is a two-time All-CAA pick as well as an All-American -- are nice, and so is being mentioned as a possible NFL draft pick. For Ijalana, the past is done and the future can wait.

"I'm just trying to enjoy life and win a national championship," he said Wednesday. "Think about it, I live in New Jersey, go to school in Pennsylvania and I'm standing in Tennessee getting ready to play in a championship game. It's a crazy time."

His dad Emanuel played in the NFL, spending time with the Bengals, Saints and Falcons. His godfather, George Rogers, won the Heisman Trophy at South Carolina before his NFL career.

For Thomas Weaver, football was a natural choice.

"I guess it was the same as anybody else," the Villanova junior defensive tackle said of growing up with a dad playing in the NFL. "We just moved a lot.

"I wasn't pressure to play football or anything like. He just said, 'If you're going to do it, be committed to it.'"

Weaver said he talked to his godfather a couple of months ago but conceded Rogers is "a busy man." While he may not have regular contact with the former Gamecocks legend, there is a topic Weaver covers quite frequently -- himself.

"He's crazy," Ben Ijalana said of his roommate. "He refers to himself in the third person a lot, and says things like, 'Weaver's a monster.' There are too many stories. Really."

For Weaver, who picked the Wildcats over offers from Kansas State and UConn coming out high school, the challenges of football make the effort -- and the stories -- more worthwhile.

"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it," he said.

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