When we think of a typical football player, the image is often that of a 6-6, 300-pound lineman, or a 6-4 235-pound quarterback but NFL rosters are dotted with game changers that are much smaller.
Today’s avid NFL fans think of Darren Sproles (5-6 190), Jacquizz Rodgers, and (5-6 196) Wes Welker (5-8 185) and others as household names.
Smaller players are having a big impact across the college landscape, at all levels.
One player making a name for himself is Villanova Wildcat senior wideout Poppy Livers.
Last year, Livers led the Wildcats with 53 receptions for 538 yards and added three touchdowns. He also averaged 20.2 per kick return. His leadership impressed too, he was named a Wildcat co-captain this fall.
This season, Livers is looking to shatter last year’s numbers. In the first two games, Livers has 13 catches for 168 yards and two TDs. He also has a 67-yard punt return for a TD, in a season-opening loss to Syracuse.
Livers journey to Philadelphia began in California as a frosh multi-sport athlete at Monterey High School. The following year he transferred to Mountain View’s St. Francis High School of the powerful West Catholic Athletic League, a top Northern California prep conference.
At St. Francis he was one of several smallish players that contributed to the success of the Lancer program. The others were Justin Artim, Nathan Morace, and Glyn Borel. The 5-7 Borel is the top receiver at Division II’s Minot State with 41 receptions for 595 yards and five touchdowns last season.
With college recruiters looking for the next Calvin Johnson (6-5 236), did the 5-7 168-pound Livers have recruiters knocking on his door during his senior year at St. Francis?
“Not at all; because I wasn’t that 6-4 guy, or always the fastest on the field,” explains Livers.
Still, he found a home at Villanova. “It was actually a long process. I went to Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy for a year to play football and basketball,” he said.
After one semester at Valley Forge, he decided to walk on at Villanova, where his Grandfather, Larry had played basketball and ran track.
Along the way, he also honed his skills with former NFL and CFL receiver and Monterey High alum Maurice Mann.
Arriving on the Villanova campus, Livers was prepared to have an impact.
“I knew I had to make a name for myself,” he said. “I had to study, especially with the no-huddle offense we run. You have to be ready. You have to get the plays down. It felt good right from the start.
“Coach Flinn (Villanova wide receivers coach Brian Flinn) never held my size against me. I knew that if I worked hard and gave 100%, I would be ready.”
Following his sophomore year, Livers earned a scholarship.
Now, Livers is drawing two defensive backs and opening up the field for Wildcat quarterback John Robertson and the Villanova running game. “It’s important when they double-team me. Our quarterback runs a lot and if I can take two men downfield with me, it opens up the field. It’s a big help,” he said.
Does his success have Livers thinking of playing at the next level?
“I think all college athletes have that dream. It’s been a dream of mine to play on Sundays since I was a kid, but I’m focused on the season. I’m taking one game at a time.
“I need to focus on my last season here and sacrifice for my teammates and the program. There are still ten games to play and anything can happen. I need to stay humble,” Livers said.
If the NFL does call, Livers can also ask for advice from his uncle, former NFL player and current Seattle Seahawk special teams assistant Chad Morton.