VILLANOVA, Pa. (CBS) -- Villanova University has spent the last several years as one of the elite teams in 1-AA or FCS football, winning consistently in an incredibly tough conference, the CAA.
Last season the Wildcats followed up their 2009 National Championship with a 9-5 record and a run to the national semifinals, where they were beaten by last year's eventual champ, Eastern Washington.
While the Wildcats are a national power, there are a lot of new faces on this roster, and many of the players who have been integral to their recent success -- WR/RB/QB Matt Szczur, QB Chris Whitney, and OL Ben Ijalana, to name a few -- have all moved on.
How has the 2011 team has looked in preseason drills?
"We have a lot of young players that we are trying to get to the dance, and that has been our primary concern," says head coach Andy Talley. "You really can't hit a whole lot, but we did have more contact than we normally do just because against Temple on Thursday night we are going to start six freshmen, and that's always precarious because they haven't been to town before and not a lot of reps."
Listen to Matt Leon's full interview with Villanova football coach Andy Talley in this CBSPhilly SportsPod:
That Temple game is the annual "Mayor's Cup" matchup at Lincoln Financial Field. And that contest will represent the first collegiate start under center for the Wildcats' new redshirt freshman quarterback, Dustin Thomas. Talley has high hopes for the Ventnor, NJ native and St. Augustine Prep High School product.
"He gets rid of the ball real quick," Talley tells KYW Newsradio. "He's got a great release. And he is fast -- very fast. We're an option football team and we throw the ball, so Dustin is really perfectly made. He is the prototype spread quarterback that you are really looking for. And he has a pedigree: he is the all-time touchdown leader in the history of South Jersey high school football."
Talley says making sure Thomas is protected in 2011 has been a main focus of camp.
"Our big concern was the offensive line, and that's something we've been trying to get some cohesion with since we started. We have two returning starters, and we are really going to end up playing with two true freshmen in the offensive line. And we haven't done that since Ben Ijalana and Brant Clouser four years ago. So we've done it before, but it does concern me."
On the other side of the ball, Talley says, he has a mixture of youth and experience.
"We have new linebackers, we have some young guys that can run, but they haven't been in a football game. Secondary is fairly solid, as is the defensive line."
Villanova's game with Temple on Thursday kicks off at 7pm. The Wildcats follow that up with their CAA opener against Towson, on the road on Saturday, September 10th.
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060
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