By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The San Francisco 49ers will visit the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. These two teams are NFC West rivals and most agree, two similarly built and evenly matched squads.
In match-ups like this, many times it is the little things that end up making the difference. Little things like covering kicks and punts.
If that proves to be the case, the 49ers should be in excellent shape. That’s because they have one of the NFL’s best at doing just that in former Villanova Wildcat Raymond “Bubba” Ventrone, who is enjoying his first season in San Francisco.
“It’s been an incredible ride to this point,” Ventrone tells KYW Newsradio. “We have an incredible group of guys, all have one goal in mind and that’s winning a championship. We’ve been talking about it all year and we’re one step closer to that right now.”
Ventrone has really had a big impact with the 49ers this season. He had 15 special teams tackles during the regular season and finished second on the team in special teams production points as graded by the coaching staff. Thanks in part to the 31-year-old defensive back’s fearless play, the 49ers allowed six-and-a-half fewer yards a kickoff return in 2013 than they did in 2012.
“I actually have had a real good year,” Ventrone says. “Being back with (49ers special teams coach Brad) Seely, who coached me in Cleveland and New England, I’m real familiar with his scheme and how he wants me to play and how guys play off of me and things like that.”
Ventrone graduated from Villanova in 2005. He was a member of the 2007 New England team that went undefeated during the regular season, before losing Super Bowl XLII to the Giants. So big games like this are nothing new to him and he is looking forward to this visit to the Pacific Northwest.
“Going into a place like Seattle,” Ventrone says. “It’s a really tough place to play. I think a lot of teams get more psyched out before they even get there. I don’t think we’ll be like that. We’ve played there, guys on this team have played there a number of times. We didn’t play great there the first time we played them this year (29-3 loss back in Week #2). The game got out of hand after a little bit, kind of just downward spiraled on us. We’re hoping to start fast. We know it’s going to be a physical game, for sure. I think our guys are up to the task.”
The 49ers won the regular season rematch between the two teams in San Francisco on December 8th, 19-17.
Ventrone was a standout defensive back during his time at Villanova and he still remembers his days on the Main Line fondly.
“I had a great college experience,” Ventrone says. “Coach (Andy) Talley runs a great program over at Villanova. He had a great staff, a lot of the staff is still in tact there from when I was there.”
He adds that a lot of the seeds for his pro success were planted while he was with the Wildcats.
“We won a lot of games when I was there,” Ventrone says. “So it definitely taught me how to win. Obviously I played safety, but I played a lot of special teams there. That’s kind of where I got my special teams start was at Villanova. So it kind of prepared me in that sense, understanding what I was expected to do on special teams and kind of carried over a little bit to the NFL and ultimately kind of got me to where I am, because my special teams tape I feel is the reason that I’m still playing.”
The 49ers and Seahawks kick-off at 6:30pm on Sunday night.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.