Keeler: JMU players increase bonds

You hear it all the time from players and coaches, “We have a lot of team chemistry,” but after being around JMU’s football team earlier this week I truly believe they have some real chemistry going.

They’ve had a lot of changes in the offseason, and it appears that most of them have been really good. It all starts with head coach Everett Withers. The former interim University of North Carolina head coach and Ohio State defensive coordinator and his staff have brought some real energy to the program, and the players have really responded well.

“It’s been a good change so far,” Warren County graduate and JMU redshirt sophomore linebacker Gage Steele said. “It’s a very positive atmosphere around here, but also competitive. Always grinding every day, learning new things constantly and adding new things to the tool box. It’s been a real nice change, and it just keeps getting better.”

One of the things that I’ve noticed at JMU in the past is it seemed many of the different position groups were closer with each other, and weren’t as close with the other groups. Withers has tried to make sure that is no longer the case, and the players are happy with the changes.

“Before we would be in different cliques,” JMU redshirt-senior Dean Marlowe said. “Now I hang out with players, me being a senior, that I never used to hang out with before. There’s a plan for everything. And coach Withers and all of our coaches have done a great job of getting everybody close together.”

One of the things Withers recently did, along with his staff, was decide who would be roommates during team camp. The staff wanted to make sure players wouldn’t be rooming with their best buddies.

“People get comfortable. We all get comfortable,” Withers said. “I think it’s about putting kids in positions where they have to learn about their teammates. We just switched rooms around. We spent three hours putting guys together, just so guys could learn something about their teammates.”

During the offseason the team spent plenty of time together whether it was playing different games, going to bible study, going to the pool or cookouts.

It’s all part of the “new culture” that Withers wants to instill at JMU. Withers said he spent the first month and a half after he arrived at JMU trying to get the players to buy into the new culture, and he was happy with the results.

“I feel like our kids have done an unbelievable job of accepting that transition,” Withers said.

A big catch phrase for the team this season is “One team, one focus, one voice,” and it’s something the players really believe in.

Even with all of the energy surrounding the team and the chemistry, there’s no guarantees that the Dukes will have a lot of wins. The CAA is a very tough conference and JMU has a tough out-of-conference schedule. Withers said a successful season isn’t just about wins and losses.

“I think if we do the things that we set out to do to grow as a team, to be a physical, tough football team, to be able to score and run the ball on offense, and to be able to stop people on defense, we’ll have a shot to win,” Withers said. “Now how many games, I can’t tell you that.”

Win or lose on the field, if Withers can keep the Dukes buying into his new culture, then he clearly has JMU going in the right direction.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd