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COLLEGE: Former Episcopal Academy Standout DeeWil Barlee Grateful for an Extra Season at Villanova

By Marc Narducci Photos: Zack Beavers, 08/15/23, 4:30PM EDT


Photos: Zack Beavers

By: Marc Narducci

VILLANOVA, PA – For DeeWil Barlee, it was the easiest of decisions to return to Villanova University for his final year of football eligibility while working toward his master’s degree.

A 2019 graduate of Episcopal Academy, Barlee earned an extra year to play football since the NCAA didn’t count the 2020 COVID season on a player’s eligibility.

Earning the extra season is only half of the process. A player has to be asked by the coaches to return to the team.

Barlee said he didn’t have to deliberate very long once he received the invitation to extend his career and education.

“Once coach (Mark Ferrante) asked me to come back, I was like ‘alright let’s do it,’” Barlee said after a recent Villanova practice.

Ferrante couldn’t have been happier at the decision.

“We are excited to have DeeWil stay with our program, even though he has graduated and to use his final eligibly year with us,” said Ferrante, whose team opens Sept. 2 at Lehigh.

Barlee, who never redshirted, earned his undergraduate degree in criminology. He is now working towards his master’s degree in public administration.

“For me to be here in my fifth fall semester, I’m grateful for it, but it would be selfish of me not to take advantage of the opportunity to get a wonderful master’s degree from Villanova,” he said. “I got a wonderful undergraduate degree, and it would be wonderful to add a master’s on top of that.”

DeeWil Barlee talks about his days at Episcopal Academy - PSD Video by Marc Narducci

Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante talks about running back DeeWil Barlee - PSD Video by Marc Narducci

He was also humbled when he received the invitation.

“It just speaks on the relationships that I’ve built over the past four, now five years,” Barlee said. “It’ something that’s very special to me.”

As for the football aspect, Barlee is part of one of the deepest positions on Villanova.

Last year, four players rushed for 300 or more yards and all four return (although one is a quarterback).

Leading the way was TD Ayo-Durojaiye, who rushed for 676 yards (5.3 avg.) and two touchdowns. Quarterback Connor Watkins rushed for 467 (5.6 avg.) and nine scores. Then came Barlee who had 408 rushing yards (4.5 avg.) and four touchdowns. Finally, Jalen Jackson rushed for 334 yards (5.9 avg.) and five scores.

All four happen to be graduate students.

In fact, Ferrante says 18 players on the roster have already received their undergraduate degree.

Needless to say, this will be an experienced team, with Barlee among the veterans.

Barlee was a captain a year ago. At press time, the captains haven’t been announced for this season.

During his career, the 5-foot-8, 205-pound Barlee, has rushed for 1,629 yards for a healthy 4.7 average and 10 touchdowns. He has caught 29 passes for 256 and one score.

“DeeWil is probably as well-rounded a player that we have in the backfield because he can catch it out of the backfield, run between the tackles, he has good speed on the perimeter,” Ferrante said. “He’s a great combination of some of the other guys.”

Villanova graduate running back DeeWil Barlee #28 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

Villanova is coming off a 6-5 season. Normally a contender in the newly named Coastal Athletic Association (CAA), the Wildcats were picked to finish seventh in this year’s coach’s poll.

Think that won’t provide a few chips on the old shoulders?

For Barlee, he isn’t worried about how many carries he gets or yards he gains. Only the W’s matter.

“My goal is to win,” he said. “I don’t care about stats, I don’t care about accolades, I want to win, that’s what I want to be known for, winning.”

In high school it was a different story. Barlee needed to carry the offensive load and he showed he was more than capable. He set single season schools records with 2,963 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. He not only enjoyed playing football, but the overall experience of attending the Inter-Ac school.

“My time at EA was great,” he said. “I went there 2015 to 2019 and it was a great time with great people and friends I still communicate with today.”

He developed a great relationship with coach Todd Fairlie, somebody he remains close to today.

“As far as football, coach Fairlie is one of the best coaches in this area and just helped me develop as a man,” Barlee said. “He also recruited my older brother to play football at Episcopal and he is almost like a family friend at this point.”

Barlee had similar praise for the school.

“As far as the school, it’s a great school,” he said. “Academically, it is hard, (but) it put me in a position to succeed at Villanova.”

Barlee has been playing football for a long time. He started playing flag football in the first grade and graduated to playing tackle by the second grade. He hasn’t stopped since.

As a youngster he played a variety of positions, including quarterback, tight end and fullback. Eventually, he gravitated to running back.

While nobody will see him on any NFL mock draft lists at this point, Barlee, like most college players, still has the dream of extending his career beyond Villanova.

“That’s always like the goal,” he said.

Yet don’t expect to spend too much time talking about Barlee’s future with him. His main goal is to win each day at practice and see where that takes him.

“The goal of mine this year is not to worry about the next chapter in my life, but to worry about the now because I am right here, we have a great team here trying to build in the right direction,” he said. “So, I’ll just do whatever I can to put our team in a position to win.”

It’s the same attitude that has enabled him to prosper during his first four years at Villanova and earn the chance at a coveted fifth season.