Withers hard at work while Dukes rest

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — The bye week may have been a relaxing one for many of the James Madison University football team, but the coaching staff was still hard at work. JMU coach Everett Withers found a way to mix business and pleasure.

Withers visited his daughter, who works in the recruiting office at the University of Alabama, this weekend and spent some time with Alabama’s football coaching staff.

“I had a chance to go down there and spend some time Thursday afternoon and Friday with the Alabama staff, and obviously got a chance to see them win their game against [Texas] A&M on Saturday,” Withers said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “Obviously, when you get a bye week, as a coach you want to go relax and do some things, but it gave me a chance to go down and see some other things. I took some notes. I got a chance to visit with [Alabama head] coach [Nick] Saban a little bit, so the opportunity to do some things like that and get some ideas as to how go through the last half of the season. How do you do those things? It was a great opportunity for me.”

Withers said his assistant coaches were also very busy this past weekend.

“Our assistant coaches were on the road recruiting Thursday and Friday,” Withers said. “They got a chance to go to some high school games. We got a chance to get our recruiting back where we want it and get it updated and move forward.”

ENERGIZED DUKES: Withers said it was a good week of practice for the Dukes, and they came back energized and ready to go on Sunday when they returned from having a weekend off.

“We had a very spirited, upbeat, very, very good practice [Sunday night],” Withers said. “I think we’re starting to see some things where we’re starting to come together even more. I think they’re anxious to get back on the field.

“I think our kids are anxious to progress on this journey these last five games or so.”

Withers said the players had a conditioning day on Thursday, but then didn’t have any football obligations until Sunday evening.

“My emphasis to our players was to get away from football, go watch somebody else play,” Withers said. “Go watch somebody else on Saturday, go watch a high school game on Friday. Get away from thinking about X’s and O’s on our end, go watch somebody else do it on Friday and Saturday nights.”

Withers said that he will learn more about his team as the week goes on and how they handle things as they get ready to face the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how we come back after a bye,” Withers said. “This is a journey and a whole process with our team. I’m trying to learn little things about our football team, and how we come back and how we prepare after a bye week. Last night we called [Sunday’s] practice a plus-one practice. How will we use that plus-one practice to be better on Tuesday or Wednesday, as we go into our preparation for UNCC.”

SWITCHING IT UP: Withers said one positive from the bye week was he was able to give some of the players a little rest, and give playing time in practice to some of the players who haven’t seen much game time this season.

“It’s important to get a lot of guys that have played a lot of snaps, give them the opportunity to rest,” Withers said. “In the bye week we had some physical practices. We actually took some of the young guys and scrimmaged them some just so they could get some work. We tried to take the load off of some of the guys that had played a number of snaps and rest some guys a little bit. You don’t want to completely shut guys down unless they have an injury, but [limit] guys’ work in practice so it does give you a chance to heal up a little bit and take some of the stress off of their legs a little bit. Some of the receivers needed some rest or limited snaps, so [the bye week] does give you the opportunity to do that.”

Withers said that wide receiver Sean Tapley is one of the players who the break could help. Tapley has been battling an injury throughout most of the season, and his playing time has been limited the last few games.

The transfer from the University of North Carolina has missed only one game, and is still third on the team in receptions with 16 catches for 184 yards and one touchdown.

“I think he’s starting to get healthier,” Withers said of Tapley. “We’ll have the opportunity to get him more opportunities in the game the healthier he becomes. So hopefully that is something that will happen for him in the future.”