Transfers could play key role in JMU success

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Any time a new coach takes over a program, there will be turnover among the players. James Madison University had some of that this year as new head coach Everett Withers took over, but he was also able to bring in a talented slew of transfers which should help the Dukes out this season.

JMU picked up eight transfers, seven of which came from Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

One of the biggest transfers is quarterback Vad Lee, who led Georgia Tech to a 7-6 record last season. Lee ran for 513 yards and passed for 1,561 yards in helping the Yellow Jackets to a second-place finish in the Coastal Division of the ACC.

Lee said he wanted to be able to throw the ball more. The Yellow Jackets run the triple-option, and he just felt like it was time for a change. He said he had the Dukes in his sights as soon as he saw that Withers, who recruited him out of high school, was taking over at JMU.

“I leaned on God through this decision,” Lee said at JMU’s media day on Monday. “I certainly believe that he brought me here for a reason, and much more than just football. Throughout this process, trying to give everybody a fair chance and everything, but for some reason James Madison just kept coming up as No. 1 in my mind.

“Coach Withers definitely had an influence on me. I seen that he took the job in December, and when I seen that that’s when James Madison triggered in my head. And I prayed on it.”

Lee enrolled in January and said everyone was very welcoming.

Withers said Lee will start the preseason camp as the No. 1 quarterback, but he will be challenged by another transfer quarterback — Bryan Schor.

The 6-foot-2 Schor played last year at Lackawanna College (Pa.), but originally committed to Miami (Ohio).

“We got a chance to watch him on tape,” Withers said of Schor. “He was a perfect fit for what we wanted to do on offense.”

Another transfer is from close to home. Millbrook graduate A.J. Bolden transferred from Toledo and is expected to help out on the offensive line.

He will be joined there by Nick Appel, a redshirt senior transfer from the University of North Carolina.

“I’m expecting guys like Nick Appel and A.J. Bolden coming in as transfers to give us more depth,” Withers said. “I’m looking for our offensive line to compete and get better as the year goes on.”

Defensive lineman Xavier Gates (Kansas State) is the only transfer on the defensive side of the ball.

Lee will have a couple former FBS targets to throw the ball to this season as JMU added redshirt senior Sean Tapley, from North Carolina, and redshirt freshman Ishmael Hyman, from Kansas.

Tapley had 47 receptions in his career with the Tar Heels for 602 yards and six touchdowns.

“We’re looking forward to seeing [Tapley and Hyman] on the practice field [on Monday], really for the first time as coaches,” Withers said. “Not the first for me. One of them I knew from my days at North Caroilna — Sean Tapley. We’re looking forward to those guys getting on the field.”

The other transfer is at running back. University of Tennessee transfer and redshirt sophomore Alden Hill is expected to challenge sophomore Khalid Abdullah for the starting tailback position.

Having so many transfers could have made things difficult for team chemistry, but the players have said things have been very smooth with all the new faces.

“We’ve just welcomed them with open arms. There really weren’t any hesitations,” JMU senior wide receiver Daniel Brown said of the transfers. “All the transfers that came in, they didn’t think any less of us, or think they were better than us. They kind of bought into what we were doing, and it was like we’ve been playing with them for four years.”

Withers said when each transfer first stepped foot on campus, the coaching staff laid out the expectations for them.

“We talked [to the transfers] about fitting into the culture of this place,” Withers said. “It’s not the culture where you came from, so we have to indoctrinate them into our culture. We’re not doing it the way they did it at Tennessee or at North Carolina or at Toledo. We’re not. We’re doing it the JMU way. And they have to learn that.

“If you recruit the right guys that are mature enough they can fit into that, and we feel like we’ve hit a home run with these guys.”

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