Villanova, which won it all in 2009, will open the 2011 season against Temple on Sept. 1 at Lincoln Financial Field.
"As our quarterback goes, so goes our football team," said Wildcats coach Andy Talley, who is fielding one of the more inexperienced squads he's had in his 27 years.
Thomas is filling the shoes of double threat Chris Whitney, who directed the Wildcats to a 34-10 record over four years and left fourth on 'Nova's career lists in passing yards (6,241) and rushing yards (2,450).
"Chris, early in his career, didn't have to carry the team," Talley said, "This guy has got to carry the team from day one. So he's got a lot on his shoulders. What he needs is game experience. The question mark on him is, 'How is he going to respond when those big guys from Temple come after him?' When he gets sacked. When he gets knocked down. I don't know how much poise he's going to have. We're going to find out."
Thomas, who Talley said has "game-breaking speed," also showed in high school that he could throw the football. A four-year starter at St. Augustine Prep, he finished his career with the most touchdown throws in South Jersey history, and second in passing yards.
Last season, in his only appearance, Thomas went 1 for 2 passing for 6 yards in mop-up duty as Villanova blanked host Lehigh, 35-0, in the Wildcats' second game.
Then, he sat out the rest of the season because of his health issue. Thomas got the go-ahead to resume his football-related activities a few games before the regular season ended, but he finished out the year as a redshirt.
"It was a guessing game," Thomas said about the efforts to find out what was ailing him. "I went to doctor after doctor. I felt fine, and tests were coming back negative. But I learned that your abilities can be taken away at any time, and that you're blessed to be out here every day."
Talley said that Thomas' performance in high school showed that he can be a productive quarterback. But Thomas himself wants more proof.
"I don't think that means much at all," Thomas said about his high school exploits. "That's past stuff. That's high school. I'm just thinking I'm going to go out there and win games, and not worry about records."
Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.