JMU’s Wilson embraces new role on defense

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Jeremiah Wilson may have finally found his position.

The Handley graduate was always at running back or cornerback when he was with the Judges. When he played at the University of Maryland, he was on special teams and at running back. In his first year at James Madison University, he played at cornerback. In the spring the Dukes decided to move Wilson to safety, and it appears to be a perfect fit.

“It’s been kind of easy, really,” Wilson said of the move. “Switching over to safety, even though it’s my first time playing there, it’s easier, and I can just use more of my attributes on the field.”

JMU head coach Mickey Matthews has been very pleased with what he’s seen and had high praise for Wilson at the team’s media day earlier this month.

“Jeremiah Wilson may be the biggest key on our whole football team,” Matthews said. “I tell many people — the JMU nation — that we need to have another safety to play well. And Jeremiah played very well. He just never felt comfortable at corner when we brought him in from Maryland. [Secondary coach] Tony LeZotte wanted to try him at safety, and it was a great move on the defensive staff’s part to move him to safety. He played very well there this spring. We liked the move.”

Last year Wilson not only had to deal with the usual problems that come with transferring from one school to another, but he also to get used to playing on defense again.

He started in one game last year at cornerback, and played in eight games. He finished the season with nine total tackles. He also returned four kicks for an average of 23.8 yards per return.

Even though he would have liked to have had more playing time last year, Wilson said last year was still a great learning experience for him.

“It helped me out a lot,” Wilson said. “I just got a lot of experience on the field along with playing that position, just having that game experience on the field doing anything, whether I’m on special teams or whether I was at corner, I just got that game experience — that helps a lot.”

Wilson said this year he feels much better going into the season, now that he’s had a year with the JMU program.

“Its a lot different, it’s a lot better,” Wilson said. “I come into it — I know what to expect. You know this is my fourth training camp, so I know what to expect. I’m just here trying to help out some of the younger guys, and just doing everything I can to help them.”

Wilson said he’s excited about JMU’s secondary. He will be able to learn from the Dukes’ other starting safety, redshirt junior Dean Marlowe.

Marlowe has been a two-time All-CAA selection at safety, and had 82 tackles and three interceptions last season.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Wilson said. “Whenever I just need some help, I just look at him. I go back and look at his films and just try to be like him because he’s a great player, a great athlete, a great leader. I just try to mimic him.”

Marlowe said he’s been really pleased with how quickly Wilson has adjusted to playing at safety, and he loves having him back there with him.

“I think he’s doing pretty well,” Marlowe said. “He’s a good player. He’s a good athlete. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s going to be fine.”

Wilson said he worked hard over the summer to get ready for the season, and he is hopeful that he can stay healthy. Injuries helped limit Wilson’s time last season. Wilson has been bothered by hamstring injuries since he played at Handley, and did a miss a few practices in the preseason this year, but he is expected to be ready to start in JMU’s season opener on Aug. 31 against Central Connecticut State.

The Dukes were picked fifth in the CAA preseason poll, and Wilson said that has helped motivate the Dukes even more this season.

“Every day we talk about how were ranked No. 5 in the conference,” Wilson said. “Every day we’re reminded of that number because that number is so low, we feel like. We feel like we have the talent every year to make it to the playoffs, and we didn’t make it last year, so that motivates us even more. It makes us want to work even harder.”

It’s been more than a year since Wilson made the decision to transfer to JMU, and Wilson said looking back on it now he knows it was a good decision.

“I feel really good about my decision,” Wilson said. “I work well with everybody. We’re really tight. I love it here.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com