2015 Football: Dukes look to build on last year’s success

JMU quarterback Vad Lee looks to make a throw during a game last season. Lee threw for a school-record 3,462 yards last year. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team had some success last year. The Dukes won seven straight games to end the regular season and hosted a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game for the first time in six years.

However, they lost 26-21 to Liberty in the first round of the playoffs. This season the Dukes aim to accomplish even more.

“We look at as it’s not good enough. We don’t want to just make it to the first round of the playoffs,” JMU linebacker and Warren County graduate Gage Steele said. “We got bigger intentions and we’re going higher places. We definitely use that as motivation from last year. We remind ourselves, but not too often. But we do want to strive for more, and we are going to strive for more.”

The Dukes start the season ranked No. 12 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 poll, and they are ranked No. 13 in the FCS Coaches poll. JMU’s first game is at home against Morehead State on Sept. 5.

JMU quarterback Vad Lee is back for a senior season. The Georgia Tech transfer threw for a school-record 3,462 yards last season, while also being the team’s leading rusher with 826 yards.

The Dukes will once again go with a fast-paced spread offense. JMU head coach Everett Withers said they will once again use a bevy of backs to keep everyone fresh in an offense that runs a lot of plays.

Junior Khalid Abdullah is the top returner from last year in the backfield, while sophomore John Miller has moved to wide receiver.

Juniors Brandon Ravenel and Rashard Davis are expected to lead the way at wide receiver. Ravenel caught 38 passes for 535 yardsand five touchdowns last year.

Deane Cheatham, a redshirt senior, is back after missing part of last year due to injury. His injury helped give more time to Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman, who caught six passes for 91 yards.

The 6-foot-3 241-pound Kloosterman has solidified himself as the No. 2 tight end in the offseason. The sophomore caught two touchdown passes in the Dukes’ first preseason scrimmage on August 18.

“Kloos is doing an amazing job,” Lee said. “The coaching staff love him. I love him. The quarterbacks love him. He stepped on campus last year and made an impact, and he’s going to make a bigger impact this year.”

The Dukes return several players from last year’s offensive line led by redshirt seniors Dominick Richards and Austin Lane.

Seniors Alex Mosley and Xavier Gates will be looking to lead the way on the defensive line, where the team should have some depth this season.

“I think we have a very strong defensive line,” Mosley said. “Nobody’s spot is secure including mine. We have to realize that each and every day, which is great because competition only brings out the best in guys. By us having that competition in practice, us seeing who can get better each and every day, will only help us get better come game time.”

Steele leads a solid but young linebacking group, and he said he’s been impressed with some of the young linebackers.

“They’ve done amazing,” Steele said. “…They’re catching on fast. They’re learning it. It’s very important for them to do that. They’re taking their roles very well, and I’m excited to see where they’re going to go with it.”

Redshirt junior Taylor Reynolds is the top returner in the secondary, where JMU lost current Carolina Panther Dean Marlowe to graduation.

Punter Gunnar Kane and place kicker Ryan Maglio return this year for the Dukes. Millbrook graduate and JMU freshman Tyler Gray is one of only two others kickers listed on JMU’s roster.

Lee said that he’s excited to what the Dukes can accomplish this season.

“It’s a great team. We have great chemistry on this team — both offense and defense,” Lee said. “I think communication has been big throughout the camp. The defense has been lining up correctly and doing great things and making it hard on us, and we also do a lot of things to make it hard on them. So we challenge each other every day, and it’s good competition going into the season.”

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