By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- This isn't how Michael Birdsong wanted his sophomore season to start.
The James Madison University quarterback was ready and prepared to take the reins full-time. However on Tuesday, Birdsong had to undergo an emergency appendectomy.
It didn't take long for Birdsong to get back to JMU practice as he was back by Thursday, but was only able to watch.
"He was a caged animal out there walking around," JMU head football coach Mickey Matthews said of Birdsong's return to practice. "He didn't like standing around. That's just not his mentality."
Matthews said he expects Birdsong to be back in time for the Dukes' season opener against Central Connecticut State on Aug. 31. Matthews said as long as he doesn't have a set-back they expect Birdsong to only miss "10 days to two weeks". That would give Birdsong plenty of time to get ready for the season opener.
As a true freshman, Birdsong split time with Justin Thorpe last year. Birdsong played in eight games, starting two of them. He threw for 478 yards on 41 of 77 passing with four touchdowns and only one interception. Birdsong also ran for 179 yards on 26 carries and had one touchdown.
Thorpe is no longer at JMU, transferring to Virginia State. It's Birdsong's time and the 6-foot-4 signal caller is excited for it.
"I'm ready to go. I'm ready to make something happen," Birdsong said at JMU's team media day on Friday.
Birdsong said his biggest improvement in the offseason was simply working with his receivers and building a good chemistry.
"Now I know what those guys are going to do. I know what they're thinking," Birdsong said.
If Birdsong for some reason can't go, redshirt sophomore Lafonte Thourogood could be next in line. Thourogood transferred from Vanderbilt last season, but saw limited playing time due to inuries.
Birdsong said he always tries to help Thourogood, who is his roommate, out as much as possible.
"It's a team sport no matter what," Birdsong said. "If I go down, he's going to come in and he needs to be just as good. As far as I'm concerned I'm going to help him out as much as I can."
Walk-on freshman Daniel Schiele is also battling for the No. 2 quarterback spot.
The Dukes will be running a more up-tempo offense this season, under first-year offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain.
Birdsong he's excited about the offense and thinks the fans will love it.
"With this fast-paced offense we're likely to run 80 plays a game," Birdsong said. "That means a lot of scoring, a lot of yards. Fans are going to be going crazy. It's going to be fun. That's what it's all about."
O'Cain said he's happy to have Birdsong as his quarterback and was impressed with what he saw during the spring.
"The thing I liked about Michael in the spring is No. 1 he's a tough guy," O'Cain said. "He's a competitor. He takes charge. When he's out there on the field everybody knows whose running the offense.
"He's got a big arm, can make all the throws. One thing he's got to learn to do is be more of a passer. Right now he's more of a thrower. He's got to learn to put more touch on his throws, and to make the right kind of throws."
The Dukes return 41 lettermen from last year's squad, which went 7-4 and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. There are four local players on this year's team -- redshirt junior Jeremiah Wilson, redshirt sophomore Graham Sharples, redshirt freshman Gage Steele and freshman Juan Luna.
Birdsong said that he believes this year's team can be very successful.
"I think we got a pretty good vibe going," Birdsong said. "Everybody feels pretty good. We got a chance to do big things around here. We just got to go out there and we got to get it done. To get it done we gotta get it done right now, and that's what we're doing right now.
"We're working our tails off to go out and have a good season this year."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org