Craig James was so excited that he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Actually, he wore his future school colors on them also.

James was an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey defensive back this season from Oakcrest who made an oral commitment to attend Villanova during the high school football season.

Imagine the emotions going through James as he watched his future school defeat Montana, 23-21, to win the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) title Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"I was so excited that the whole week in school leading up to the game I wore my 'Nova stuff around," James said Monday. "I was really pumped up."

Part of him was excited, and the other part really wanted to be there - in uniform.

"I was wishing that I was a year older and could have been there," James said.

James is continuing a tradition of Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey players who are migrating across the river to play football at Villanova.

On this year's team, there were nine players who graduated from high schools in the seven-country South Jersey area on the Wildcats' roster, including five from the Cape-Atlantic League.

James will have some Cape company in his incoming freshman class. Dustin Thomas, an Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey quarterback from St. Augustine, has also made an oral commitment to Villanova. High school football recruits can't sign a letter of intent until Feb. 3.

Thomas has also noticed the talent from the Cape that has gone to Villanova. Leading the group of Cape Atlantic alums was all-American receiver Matt Szczur, a junior from Lower Cape May who capped his season with 270 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in being named the championship game's most outstanding player.

"Kids around here have the talent to go to bigger schools but don't get the looks," Thomas said, suggesting that the Cape is truly an under-recruited area. "They end up at Villanova and have done well."

Of course, Villanova isn't recruiting exclusively in the Cape when it travels to South Jersey. This year's roster had four South Jersey players who competed outside the Cape, including all-American offensive tackle Ben Ijalana, a junior from Rancocas Valley.

Like James, Thomas was glued to the television for Friday's championship tilt.

"It was exciting, and at the same time I was thinking that when I go there I would like to continue the tradition," said Thomas, who threw a South Jersey career record 69 touchdown passes.

Thomas and James are getting better acquainted since they will be future teammates.

The two will be going up for a recruiting visit during the second weekend of January. While Thomas says he will likely redshirt, James is looking to come in and make an immediate contribution.

It's not impossible. Eric Loper, a natural freshman from Timber Creek, was one of Villanova's starting cornerbacks.

Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney will be a senior next season, and Thomas will look to absorb all he can.

"It will be good to have somebody like that to learn the offense from," Thomas said.

While there itmay be pressure for a recruiting class to come in and attempt to match the exploits of the current group, James is looking forward to the challenge.

"It's something you dream for," he said.

There are many reasons why Villanova is a champion, but recruiting successfully in South Jersey in general and the Cape in particular has been an obvious factor.

Thomas and James can only hope that high school recruits in future years are watching them compete for a national championship.

It could happen, especially if the pipeline keeps flowing freely with recruits from South Jersey to the Main Line.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.