Local JMU players surprised by move

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

Jeremiah Wilson has been here before.

The James Madison University junior defensive back and Handley graduate is one of the few players on the Dukes who has went through a coaching change, and on Monday he learned that he will have to go through it again. JMU announced on Monday that head football coach Mickey Matthews has been fired after 15 seasons as head coach.

Wilson was at the University of Maryland when Ralph Friedgen was fired as well.

“This ain’t my first time going through this, so I have mixed feelings,” Wilson said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “There’s been rumors out there the last week or two, but still nothing was set in stone.”

Wilson said he talked to some of his teammates through Twitter and the players were not happy about the decision.

“I think everybody really liked him as a coach,” Wilson said. “Whenever I talked to him, he always had something positive to say. We never butted heads or anything like that. I really liked him.”

While it’s not Wilson’s first time going through a coaching change, it is the first time for his local teammates linebacker Gage Steele, and kickers Graham Sharples and Juna Luna.

Steele, a Warren County graduate, said that the players found out via e-mail early Monday morning. The players received an e-mail from both Matthews and JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne. There are no classes this week at JMU due to Thanksgiving break.

“I was very surprised,” Steele said. “I had a very good relationship with coach Matthews. He would always check up on us to see how things were going with school and things like that. He would always ask how my family was doing and things like that.”

Sharples, a Handley graduate, said the news was surprising and he was still trying to let it all sink in. He said he had talked to a few players and the whole team was in shock.

“I think everybody is still in shock,” Sharples said. “It’s still a little overwhelming. What happens next? What do we do now?”

Wilson and linebacker Titus Till both transferred from Maryland last year after playing a year under coach Randy Edsell. Wilson said he didn’t want to play for another coach other than Matthews in his senior season. He said he and Till will do their best to help the other players out who haven’t been through this before.

“We’ll definitely try to help the rest of the players out,” Wilson said. “Just letting them know a little about the process and what to expect.”

The Dukes went 6-6 this season, after starting out 5-2 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. The Dukes lost their last three games, and didn’t win a game on the road this year.

Matthews guided JMU to the I-AA national championship in 2004 and had a career record of 109-71 at JMU.

Speculation will now begin as to what assistant coaches may be let go. Matthews’ son Clayton was the wide receivers and special teams coach.

Steele said it’s very sad to know that Matthews and possibly other coaches will be leaving.

“Those are the coaches that recruited me and people that I got to know really well,” Steele said. “And now they’re gone.”

Steele, a redshirt freshman, had a phenomenal season for the Dukes. Steele was second on the team in tackles with 106, and had three sacks and three forced fumbles in his first season as a starter. Wilson missed the last five games after tearing the labrum in his shoulder. He started seven games and had 35 tackles and recovered a fumble. Wilson said he will get his sling off next week and will then begin rehab.

Sharples, a redshirt sophomore, played in one game and made two extra points. Luna, a freshman and a Stonewall Jackson graduate, did not see any action as a preferred walk-on.

Wilson said the team will miss Matthews.

“He’s done so much for the JMU community,” Wilson said. “It’s really sad to see him leave this way.”

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