Dox Aitken told US Lacrosse Magazine's Nelson Rice that he plans to play football for Villanova in the Spring of 2021.

Former UVA Star Dox Aitken Committed to Villanova Football for Spring 2021

When Nathan Pagan hit play last winter on Dox Aitken’s senior year football highlights at The Haverford School (Pa.), it didn’t take long for the Villanova wide receivers coach to grasp the potential graduate transfer’s ability. 

Throughout the 13-minute, 19-second video, Pagan watched the two-time Inter-Academic League Player of the Year make countless Davante Adams-esque catches and hits that call to mind Brian Dawkins. There were jukes and dives, stiff arms and interceptions and about everything in between during the undefeated season when Aitken set school records in receiving yards (859) and touchdown grabs (11).

There were even punts.

“Wow,” Pagan remembers thinking. “If the kid can do all that stuff, he is pretty damn athletic. Excuse my language.”

Pagan has seen those skills in person over the past 10 weeks. Aitken, a three-time USILA All-American in lacrosse at Virginia who set the program record for goals by a midfielder, has gone from bull dodging long-stick middies to creating separation from cornerbacks this fall. The transition to the gridiron represents the latest example of lacrosse’s top talents using a final season of eligibility to pursue a different sport. (Cc: Pat Spencer.)

But unlike the 2019 Tewaaraton Award winner, Aitken believed there was opportunity to play both football and lacrosse through a 20-year-old statute Virginia’s compliance office found that Cavaliers head coach Lars Tiffany called a “golden nugget” in the wake of the COVID-19 shortened season and NCAA’s permission eligibility relief.

The Colonial Athletic Association’s shift to a spring football season altered those plans.

“With the announcement of a possible spring season, I'm staying at Villanova to play football,” Aitken said. “The plan is to play in the spring and obviously I would be a part of that.”

Tiffany hears a similar question from alums almost daily: “So what’s the latest with Dox?”

“Guys, Dox is focused on football,” Tiffany has told them for the past month or so. “I don’t think we’re going to see him play for Virginia lacrosse again, unfortunately. Of course, we’d want him back, but I want Dox to be happy and I really think he’s excited about this new challenge.”

“I don’t think we’re going to see him play for Virginia lacrosse again, unfortunately. Of course, we’d want him back, but I want Dox to be happy and I really think he’s excited about this new challenge.” - Lars Tiffany

Aitken navigated uncertainty after the cancellation of his senior season by concentrating on the task at hand. He jumped into Zoom meetings with the Wildcats starting back in May. He hasn’t missed one since. He even asked Pagan if he could schedule more one-on-one meetings to break down last year’s game film and accelerate his understanding of Villanova’s spread up-tempo offense.  

"He has picked up the offense pretty fast," Pagan said. "Not just the specific position, but what everybody else is doing as well. He's definitely been a fly on the wall wanting to learn as much as possible.”

That maturity and attention to detail were present from moment Aitken stepped on campus in Charlottesville. The No. 2-ranked recruit in the class of 2016 by Inside Lacrosse did not have the most impressive first-year fall. By the time the spring rolled around, though, Aitken was an immediate-impact player. He scored four goals and picked up five ground balls in his first collegiate game against Loyola.

After Virginia dropped their first ACC game of the year to Syracuse in 2017 at the Carrier Dome, Aitken (3g, 2a) was a picture of poise when he answered questions from about six reporters during the post-game press conference.

“I felt like I was sitting next to a 10-year NFL veteran,” Tiffany told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Aitken set the freshman scoring record for a midfielder before the calendar turned to April. But throughout his ascent to setting then resetting the Cavaliers’ single-season scoring record by a midfielder and earning a laundry list of other accolades, Tiffany believes it was most affirming to see Aitken maintain the rare combination of qualities he had when they first met. 

To watch Aitken run was to see a pure grace in locomotion. To spend time with him in a Cultural Thursday meeting was to have his undivided attention. To see him on the practice field or in the weight room was the epitome of focus.

Most fans probably focused on Michael Kraus’ controversial game-tying goal, which Aitken assisted, during Virginia’s 13-12 overtime win over Maryland in the 2019 NCAA quarterfinals. Tiffany recalled a different image. It was Aitken’s expression on the sideline after a Ryan Conrad goal pulled the Cavaliers to within three with about three minutes left. While Tiffany says Aitken could be two or three times more confident and he would still be too humble, in that moment his confidence was unshakable.

“It’s happening,” Tiffany thought about the comeback after seeing the look in Aitken’s eyes.

The Cavaliers capped their national championship run — the program’s first in eight years — at Lincoln Financial Field on Memorial Day. Aitken earned all-tournament honors.

“It was a dream come true,” Aitken said of competing at the highest level on the turf where he had watched the Eagles play on so many Sundays. “I never thought I would have that opportunity.”

Though he started playing lacrosse first, Aitken always loved football and possessed a desire to play at the next level. That seemed like a possibility after his junior year of high school. Notre Dame invited him to “Irish Invasion” — their biggest camp of the summer. Syracuse and Army reached out. So did Mark Ferrante at Villanova. Penn State, where Aitken’s mom, Patrice, and several of his cousins played lacrosse, came around late and wanted Aitken to play both sports.

He had already committed to Dom Starsia and Virginia in August of 2013.

“The message got out there that he was committed to Virginia pretty early and that probably limited some of the scholarship offers he was going to have,” said Michael Murphy, Haverford School’s athletic director and former football coach.


Aitken left Virginia a three-time USILA All-American in lacrosse who set the program record for goals by a midfielder.

When Aitken stopped by his alma mater during offseason to get some reps at Sabol Field along Lancaster Avenue, he’d always tell Murphy how much he missed football. In Charlottesville, he caught some passes during the Will Barrow Memorial Flag Football tournament, but he wanted more. That’s why Murphy was not surprised when the player who’s athleticism is only matched by his toughness called him last winter and asked about his postgraduate options.

Aitken talked to Cincinnati and a couple other colleges, but there was a clear first choice. He might have an allegiance to the Linc, but it’s Villanova Stadium that feels like home. Aitken grew up less than a mile away. His cousin, Chris, played lacrosse for the Wildcats. Besides boasting one of the top teams in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), there was also the school’s nationally ranked MBA program.

“It was pretty much all Villanova from the start to the finish,” Aitken said.

The transition has not been without its hurdles. The first day Aitken walked into the Talley Athletic center in mid-August, he wondered if his teammates knew he was a real person since all their meetings had been over Zoom. The first couple weeks of running routes “on air” felt awkward. Pagan offered critiques on seemingly every detail, including hand placement while catching a football.

“The training might be a little different, but at the end of the day it's just hard work,” Aitken said when asked to compare his experiences in Charlottesville and the Main Line. “Some days you feel great and some days you might feel sore, but you got to put your head down and work hard.”

Every day he feels a little more comfortable.

“What’s the best thing that you do well at the receiver position?” Pagan asked Aitken during one of their first meetings.

It is the same thing he did on the lacrosse field, Aitken explained. At 6-foot-2 and around 200 pounds, he was bigger than everybody else, so he knew how to use his body and create separation or shield people off.

“That's the same thing we're seeing here,” Pagan said. “When he's at the top of a route, he's able to use his body and his physicality to shield guys off and go attack the football.”

Aitken is listed exclusively as a wideout on Villanova’s roster, but that hasn’t stopped the team’s defensive coordinator from popping into Pagan’s office every once in a while with the same request: “Can I use him in a package on defense?”

Aitken even showed off his leg one day after practice with some encouragement from the team’s director of player personnel.

“He bombed a few,” Pagan said.

The Wildcats already have an all-conference punter. But when practices resume in 2021, Aitken will compete to start at wideout.

“You can tell he definitely critiques himself and holds himself to a high standard,” Pagan said. “He’s done a tremendous job and is very mature. He knows what it takes to win a national championship and is willing to put in the work.”