By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- Last year all Gage Steele could do was stand and watch.
In the Warren County graduate's first year as a James Madison Duke he redshirted. While having to stand on the sidelines wasn't the easiest thing to do, you won't hear any complaints from Steele.
"Redshirt freshman year is real nice because you get to see how things work, and you get to put in time to watch how the team works," Steele said. "It's a good thing to sit back and watch, and make sure you're doing the right things when it is your time to come and play with them."
Steele's time is now. Originally, he was expected to backup senior linebacker Stephon Robertson, who is a Sports Network 2013 preseason first-team All-American. However, JMU decided they wanted to get him on the field, so they moved him to outside linebacker, where he is expected to start.
"I'm sure the butterflies will going and things like that," Steele said of finally getting a chance to play. "It will be an adrenaline rush. It's definitely going to be fun when I get on the field."
Steele will certainly have the opportunity to learn from a special player in Robertson, who had 101 tackles last season.
Steele said it's been great learning and watching from him.
"He's a great player," Steele said. "He knows everything about football. I got a great coach in front of me. I can ask him anything, anytime if I don't understand something, and he can explain it to me to where I understand it. And it just makes it that much easier for me to learn the plays, because he's got so much experience. He knows how this game works."
Steele said the biggest challenge has been learning all the plays, and learning how to read the different offenses.
Robertson said he sees a little of himself in Steele, and that he believes he will do great things at JMU.
"He's fast, he's quick to the ball," Robertson said. "The only thing that is his downfall is he's learning. He hasn't got comfortable yet, but he's good. Gage is good. Once he gets there, he's going to get it and be fine.
"He's getting better. Like he knows [the position], but he's just not confident. Like he's more scared to mess up than anything. You really have to play with a forgetful memory on that side of the ball because it will bother you on the next play. Once he learns that, gets more confident he'll be fine."
Steele said one of the highlights of last season for him was just being part of the team on gameday and running onto the field as a JMU Duke.
"It was crazy running out of that [inflatable] Duke Dog. I couldn't stop smiling," Steele said. "It was crazy and the crowd was great. Just watching the older players, that know the game, perform -- it's awesome."
This year Steele will be able to do more than just stand and watch, and it could be another really good learning experience for the freshman.
JMU's defense is always solid, and Steele said he's excited about what the defense can do this year.
"We're learning the plays, learning how to read the offense and what's needed," Steele said. "We're also looking very fast this year, very fast and strong. We can get to the ball. That's one of the big things about defense is going to the ball. So we'll be able to do that."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org