"I want to do what I can – whether that's on special teams and third downs – to help the team and help win during my freshman year," said the well-spoken Thomas.
Special teams is always an area where players can break onto the field early. In 2001, a little known walk-on named Scott Gyorko turned into West Virginia's kickoff team ace. In 2005 it was freshman Charles Pugh who had an impact on many of the Mountaineer special teams. Pugh's role from last season is likely the most comparable to what Thomas will do beginning Saturday.
"I'm very comfortable on special teams," said Thomas, who's father (also named J.T.) was a linebacker for Don Nehlen's Mountaineers in 1994-95. "That's how I got on the field when I was younger, at the beginning of high school. I played all of the special teams as a sophomore and junior. In college you just have to make sure you have the right assignment, and that you're in the right place at the right time."
Whereas a pair of freshman linebackers, Reed Williams and Johnny Holmes, were kept off of the special team units for the first few games of last season, Thomas will play from the get-go.
One of the reasons Thomas will play early is because he seldom makes the same mistake twice. Showing a great football I.Q. has been a big part of his early impression on the Mountaineer coaching staff.
"I just get out there and play," he says. "If I'm wrong, Coach Casteel can get a little bit riled up, but if I know what I did wrong then I try not to make that mistake again. In my extra time I'm going through my playbook a little bit more, and doing some extra film study too."
When you think of dancing with regards to the game of football, you likely think of running backs who use their shifty moves to elude would-be tacklers. In Morgantown though, it's a defensive back who's name is synonymous with dancing. Meet Franchot "Boogie" Allen.
"I used to dance a lot when I was little," Allen said when asked how he got his unique nickname. "Every time I heard music I started dancing. My friends and family gave me a lot of nicknames, but Boogie just stayed with me."
Boogie will bring his act to a Big East stadium near you this fall as he will likely play both on special teams, and in some of the nickel and dime packages on defense. Allen is not surprised at the opportunity to play early. In fact, he expected it.
"When I was being recruited they had told me that they were losing a lot of secondary players," he recalled. "That's a big reason why I committed here to be honest. That played a big, big role in recruiting, playing early."
Allen worked hard in the offseason preparing for fall camp. Some of that work was done with his brother, New England Patriots defensive back Gus Scott.
"He took me through a few drills over the summer," said Allen. "He worked with me on alignment, and recognizing receivers' tendencies when they line up."
On offense, only one true freshman will escape a redshirt for the time being. Like Thomas, fullback Maxwell Anderson is a second generation Mountaineer. His father Ernie was a defensive lineman, and a teammate of Rich Rodriguez in the 1980's. The younger Anderson will see time in the offensive backfield for the Big East champs as he spells super-human Owen Schmitt from time to time.
Anderson is no stranger to Mountaineer Field, having been a part of several MoHawk Bowls (the annual rivalry game played between local high schools Morgantown and University at the stadium.) He expects Saturday's game to be just a bit different from his past experiences at Milan Puskar Stadium.
"I can't imagine what it'll be like," he said. "This will be a lot bigger (than Morgantown and University.) There will be a lot more fans, and a lot bigger stage than the Mohawk Bowl."
If nothing else, all three players have the Nuke LaLoosh interview routine down.
"Any way that you can help the team or give the starters a break is good. If I'm out on the field, one of our starters could rest," says Thomas.
"It's exciting to go out there and play, to get the opportunity to go out and contribute a little bit to the team," Allen said.
"I'm doing whatever I can do on the field to help the team win, whether that's in a practice or in a game," said Anderson.
As cliche as it sounds, these three freshmen will all be playing big roles in helping the team. We saw last year the type of impact that newcomers can have. While they may not turn in a Steve Slaton like performance, they will have a lot of say in how West Virginia's season turns out.