VILLANOVA, Pa. - St. Augustine Prep had a package in its offensive playbook while Dustin Thomas was there that involved the record-setting quarterback running routes and catching passes.
The Hermits never ran those plays - perhaps because Thomas was busy throwing a southern New Jersey-record 69 career touchdown passes.
"I think the coaches were always scared," Thomas said with a laugh last week.
Perhaps they shouldn't have been.
Thomas moved from quarterback to receiver late last season as a redshirt freshman at Villanova University, and he already has drawn praise from teammates and coaches in training camp this year as the Wildcats look to rebound from a 2-9 season. They open their season Friday against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
"Dustin's very athletic," Wildcats coach Andy Talley said last week. "He can really run. He's very fast. He's got real good ball awareness. He knows our offense. ... So far he looks like he's going to be able to get some reps and get on the field for us."
Thomas said he hasn't felt out of place at receiver. The 6-foot, 200-pounder worked in the offseason with Villanova senior receiver Norman White, a St. Joseph graduate, and former St. Augustine Prep offensive coordinator Dale Amos, who played for the Indianapolis Colts.
"It's surprisingly comfortable," said Thomas, a 20-year-old from Ventnor. "It's felt natural out there. It's tough sometimes when you're looking at quarterbacks and, you know, you used to be there. But it's really just a role switch. You're used to throwing and now you're catching the ball. I've done it when I was younger, just never really on a competitive team."
A rough first year
Thomas was thrust into a tough situation at quarterback last season. He found out shortly before the season opener that White would miss the entire season with a foot injury. And the Wildcats already were rebuilding with a young roster two years after winning the national title in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision.
Thomas completed 43-of-80 passes for 412 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions. He also missed four games after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2 against Towson. When Talley decided to replace him at quarterback, though - Chris Poloney is the starter this season - the coach didn't want Thomas' athleticism to go to waste.
Thomas embraced the change, even though it hasn't been easy.
"I know I'm fast, so that's one thing that I do have," he said. "I'm still working on getting off presses and stuff, using my hands, just small things that you would pick up as a receiver growing up, working your hands or how to cut."
He does have one advantage though over players who have been receivers for their entire careers.
"You know what the quarterback's looking for," Thomas said. "It's kind of like you have a little bit of, telekinesis might be the word, where you can kind of read what they're thinking because you've played that position before. So you know where they're going to look, or you know where they would want you to place yourself within the zone or man."
Playing time is there for the taking at receiver. White and Joe Price are the starters, but Dorian Wells' broken foot and Jamal Abdur-Rahman's season-long suspension leave Buena Regional graduate Kenny Miles as the only other receiver who had more than eight receptions last year (Miles had 13).
Thomas also could play on special teams - something he said has been a bit of an adjustment in practice after playing quarterback for so long.
"When we do special teams and other types of defensive drills, you're involved with that, so you're not sitting on the sideline drinking water," he said with a smile.
Another change is that Thomas went from taking every snap to only having the ball thrown his way a few times - even in practice. But he's working hard to get the ball in his hands more often.
"He looks good when he's out there running his routes," said defensive tackle Antoine Lewis, a Mainland Regional graduate. "He's working on the little things and hopefully (will) get some playing time."
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Villanova at Temple
When: Friday (ESPN3.com)