Withers to help out with Dukes defense

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University football coach Everett Withers has plenty of experience coaching defense, and he’s hoping that experience can help get the Dukes on track this season.

After another dismal defensive performance, Withers has decided to get more involved in coaching the defense, especially the outside linebackers. JMU lost 49-31 to Villanova on Saturday, yielding 563 yards of offense to the Wildcats.

“[JMU defensive line coach] Antoine Smith is coaching five guys right now. He’s coaching the outside linebackers, the nose and two ends. In two-a-days, I was coaching the jack and the sam — our outside linebackers,” Withers said at his weekly press conference. “Now I’m doing press conferences, and CAA [press] conferences and doing all this other stuff. I’m not coaching the sam and the jack anymore, so how much are those guys losing coaching each week? One of the things I want to do and do better is coach those guys — go help our defensive staff in those meetings. Those are two very big positions on our team, probably two of the most important positions on our team that did not play well Saturday.

“I have to do a better job of helping our guys with those two positions.”

Withers has spent the majority of his 26 years as a football coach on the defensive side of the ball. He has been a defensive coordinator at the college and pro level for 11 years, including last year at Ohio State University.

Withers said he enjoys working with the players and coaching them, and it’s hard to do as much of that when you’re a head coach.

“I look forward to coaching,” Withers said. “I like being involved in meeting and organizing meetings. Coaches are nothing but teachers. … I enjoy that part of it. I really take a lot of the blame for not being part of the defensive staff and coaching those two positions, because I think I could help. I hope I’m a plus for them.”

KLOOSTERMAN’S FIRST CATCH: Strasburg graduate and JMU true freshman tight end Jonathan Kloosterman made his first career reception on Saturday in the fourth quarter against Villanova.

The second-string 6-foot-3, 241-pound tight end has played in every game this season, and caught a pass for 10 yards against the Wildcats.

“He’s still growing each week,” Withers said of Kloosterman. “He’s getting better at the tight end position. Hopefully, he’s a guy that can help us in the future, this year and beyond. He’s got some size. He’s a hard worker. He’s a kid that tries to do everything like he’s coached. He’s being coached really hard by [tight ends] coach [John] Bowers and I think obviously he’s stepped up. We’ve used him in ballgames on special teams and at tight end. Hopefully, his growth and his maturation continues.”

Kloosterman has a good player to look up to in front of him in JMU redshirt junior tight end Deane Cheatham, who had six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown against Villanova on Saturday.

“He’s done a nice job of doing what he does well in this offense,” Withers said of Cheatham. “He catches the ball well. He’s an aggressive player. He knows the system. He’s spent a lot of time on learning what his job description is. Having a career day for him [on Saturday], we expect him to have more days where he catches a bunch of passes, because I think [JMU quarterback] Vad [Lee] feels comfortable throwing the ball to him.”

RECORD SETTER: One definite positive from JMU’s loss was the play of Lee, who set a school record with 406 passing yards.

Lee was 23 for 43 with three touchdown passes, all of which came in the first half. Withers said the Georgia Tech transfer is making strides with each game and that it is difficult to go from Georgia Tech’s triple option offense to JMU’s.

“Anytime you go and put yourself in an offense that is strictly a run offense for two years, which basically is what he’s done, and now you’re back in an offense that actually wants you to read defenses in the pass game and the run game, it takes some time,” Withers said. “He’s growing each week and getting better.”

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