TOWAMENCIN >> For Owen Thomas, location became a big factor in deciding between Villanova University and the University of Central Florida.
And with the Main Lane being closer than Orlando, the North Penn senior opted to join the Wildcats — the Knights tight end and linebacker verbally committing to continue his football career at Villanova.
“Basically, just how it’s close to home,” said Thomas Monday. “Villanova and UCF were my last two choices. I really liked Villanova, it’s a great education they have a great business school, it’s really close to home, they’re good at football. I mean UCF was amazing, it was everything that I could of have wanted, but it’s just far.”
Thomas announced his decision on Twitter Aug. 8 and said Monday he wanted to make his college choice before the start of the Knights’ season — the defending District 1-6A champions open 2017 at home against La Salle on Aug. 25.
“I chose now because I knew I wanted to get it out of the way before the season so I could just focus on the season. Not worry about recruiting and everything,” he said. “Going into the season I would know where I’m going. I don’t have to worry about all that.”
Thomas earned All-Suburban One League Continental Conference honors on both offense and defense his junior year — making the first team at tight end and was an honorable mention pick at linebacker in helping the Knights reach the PIAA 6A semifinals and finish 14-1.
“After my sophomore year, like the spring of junior year, I kind of realized that I had the possibility to earn some scholarships and not having to worry for paying for school — I know that’s a huge deal now a days with student loans and everything and debt,” he said. “And I don’t want my parents to pay for college. Just taking that weight of my shoulders and their shoulders is such a great relief.”
Thomas says Villanova’s interest in him began in the spring then offered him a scholarship in June with the Wildcats looking for him play at defensive end.
“It’s similar. I played d-end basically in all Pop Warner and everything up to middle school and everything,” he said. “Basically my sophomore year was the first time I’d ever played linebacker. So, I mean, I guess I have that feel but obviously it’s a different game going from middle school to college football.”
Andy Talley retired as Villanova’s head coach after 32 years at the end of the 2016 season with Mark Ferrante — a ‘Nova assistant for 30 years — becoming the Wildcats’ new head coach.
Villanova finished last season 9-4 overall (6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association) and qualified for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs for the second time in three years — beating St. Francis in the first round before falling to South Dakota State in the second round.
As a linebacker, Thomas helped North Penn hold their 2016 opponents to 16.6 points per game. In the 48-13 Week 8 win over Souderton, Thomas returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown.
On offense as a tight end, Thomas caught 13 passes for 202 yards last season while seven receptions resulting in touchdowns as the Knights won their first District 1 title since 2011.
Thomas caught a season-high four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown in the 23-7 victory over Downingtown East in Week 2. His most receiving yards came in the district semifinals — a 42-25 win over Coatesville — as he hauled in two passes for 96 yards, one a 68-yard touchdown.
North Penn graduated several key players from an offense that averaged 40.4 points in 2016 — including quarterback Reece Udinski and leading receiver Ricky Johns — but Thomas has confidence this year’s group can continue to rack up yards and points.
“I feel like we’re going to be pretty solid again this year,” he said. “It’ll be a lot different. We’re more balanced this year. Reece was Reece, 4,000 yards it’s going to be hard to find someone to do as well as he did. But Steve (DePaul), it’s looking like he is going to be our quarterback. He’s looking pretty well. He’s looking like a solid quarterback.”
Top Photo: North Penn’s Owen Thomas scores after pulling in a short pass during the Knights’ home game against Souderton on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)