Dukes look for ‘swag’ appeal

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — Everett Withers knows how to recruit.

The James Madison University head football coach has coached and recruited at Division I schools such as University of North Carolina and Ohio State University. Withers understands what it takes to bring a recruit to a school like JMU, and that was part of the reason he wanted to change JMU’s uniforms and helmets.

The Dukes wore brand new black uniforms and purple helmets with the JMU Duke Dog in white on the helmet in Saturday’s 31-24 victory over William and Mary. Withers said it’s important to have a little swag with jerseys and helmets.

“My son’s 14 and he gets all geeked up over it. I know 17,18-year olds love it — they call it swag,” Withers said Monday at his weekly press conference about the new helmets and uniforms. “They like that stuff. The more swag you got, the more chances you got of getting a kid nowadays. You better have pretty shiny stuff to go recruit nowadays. If you don’t, you’re not getting them.”

Withers said he decided as soon as he became head coach that he wanted to get new uniforms and helmets, and it just took a little time for everything to come together and get them.

“Any athletic program you run is like a business. You’re always trying to find a way to help your business, and our business is really playing football games and recruiting,” Withers said. “So it’s about recruiting. Everything we do is about recruiting. I’ve had hits on Twitter all day long from recruits about the swag uniforms. So that’s real important for us. It was important for our players.”

The players didn’t find out about the new uniforms and helmets until minutes before they took the field for Saturday’s game. They said they had heard rumors, but didn’t know anything for sure. It was clear from the smiles on faces after the game that they were very excited about the new merchandise.

“We hoped that we would be getting them,” Senior Sage Harold said with a smile. “They’re nice.”

RECEIVERS SHINING: Withers said he wasn’t very impressed with his group of wide receivers when he first came to JMU in January. Since then he’s done a complete 180, as the receivers have emerged into playmakers.

“They’ve grown a lot,” Withers said of the receivers as a group. “Back in February I thought they might be the worst in the country. I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff for working with them and helping them to grow and get better each week.”

On Saturday, quarterback Vad Lee threw the ball to seven different players, including four wide receivers and two tight ends.

Daniel Brown had eight receptions for 128 yards to lead the way, and fellow senior wide receiver DeAndre Smith has six catches for 58 yards in the win over the Tribe.

“Everybody did a great job today,” Lee said of his receivers. “All the guys came up big. I have all the faith in them to make a play.”

It was the 6-foot-5 Brown’s first 100-yard receiving game of his career.

“Daniel had a big game for us. They were giving us some one-on-ones with him on the back side,” Withers said. “Really to be honest with you, we didn’t get to it until the second half, really until the fourth quarter. They did not roll coverage to him. They left the corner one-on-one on the backside with him. We started taking some shots over there with Daniel and he made some big-time plays.

“Because of his size, he presents a physical problem for most defenses. He catches the ball well, and he’s a smart kid. And he blocks on the perimeter.”

OFFSEASON PAYING OFF: JMU has had a knack for fourth-quarter comebacks this season. Three of their six wins have come on fourth-quarter comebacks. They also rallied against Delaware, only to lose in overtime.

Withers said the ability to pull out games in the fourth quarter started in the offseason with the workouts the team had.

“In the offseasons we tried to put them through situations or events to help them prepare for the season,” Withers said. “We wanted to make it tough on them so that when they get in tough situations they know how to respond. I think that’s why when we’re down they’re able to scratch and claw and fight their way through adversity.”

The players were proud of how they played, especially in the second half. The Dukes trailed by as many as 11 points, but when the game was on the line found a way to make plays.

“Somebody told me once we’re like tea bags,” Smith said. “You never really know what’s in us until you place us in hot water. Today as a team, we were placed in hot water, and you saw what kind of team we are.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com