Cheatham making big plays for Dukes

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University has plenty of options on offense.

The Dukes have a solid core of running backs, and a flashy, quick quarterback. They also have a strong group of wide receivers with the speed to go deep at any time. However, JMU showed in Saturday’s 55-17 victory over Lehigh it also has a tight end in Deane Cheatham, who loves going down the middle of the field.

Cheatham had a career-high eight receptions for 118 yards in the win over Lehigh.

JMU quarterback Vad Lee said, “He was getting open.  He was just playing the game and doing a great job of running his route. But that’s just what he does normally.”

Cheatham missed part of last season with an injury, and Lee said it’s great to have him back on the field.

JMU coach Everett Withers said that all the other options the Dukes have on offense help open things up for Cheatham.

“Deane’s a weapon for us down the middle of the field,” Withers said. “When you have an offense like this, that has a run game, skill guys on the outside, it really makes it even doubly dangerous when you get that guy down the middle of the field. Deane’s really been good, and he’s as tough and as football savvy a guy that we have on our football team.”

Special day: JMU true freshman Rashad Robinson had two big plays on special teams on Saturday.

Robinson, who was named the CAA Special Teams Player of the Week, recovered a fumble on a punt attempt by Lehigh punter Austin Devine and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown with 11:02 left in the opening half.

Robinson also recovered an onside kick by JMU with 14:07 left in the game and the Dukes leading 48-17.

“Rashad is a gamer,” Withers said. “We’ve got a number of freshman that it just seems like they enjoy being in the game playing. They’re not scared of the moment and that’s what we recruited. We wanted to recruit guys that weren’t afraid of the moment, getting in the game. … He’s a guy that’s got a lot of talent. He’s got a lot of room to grow, get better, but he’s one of the guys that you love to keep growing his role for our football team.”

Withers said after the game that he tried the on-side kick simply to get some practice with it during a game.

“The reason I kicked an on-side kick is because it was there,” Withers said. “It was there every time. When we do what we do on kickoffs, eventually we got to go get it and it was there.

“… I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. I was just trying to work on something that we practice every week. It’s hard to work on something all year long and never see the fruits of it.”

Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said he was surprised that JMU tried it at that time in the game.

“I don’t coach that football team. I don’t think I would have done it, but it’s part of the game,” Coen said. “We’re all big boys.”

Steele strong: Warren County graduate and JMU redshirt junior linebacker Gage Steele is off to a solid start for the Dukes.

In the first two games of the season Steele has a team-best 17 tackles. He had a team-best nine tackles against Lehigh and also had his first sack of the season.

Steele was second on the team in tackles as a freshman, but last year suffered a preseason injury and his numbers were down from the previous year.

Withers said this year Steele understands what’s expected of him more than he did last year.

“Everybody’s got a job description, and Gage last year, I think, didn’t know his job description,” Withers said. “It’s not his fault. It’s the coaches’ fault. It’s my fault for him not knowing his job description. I think for this year (defensive coordinator) coach (Steve) Sisa and the defensive staff have done a really good job of explaining and getting everybody job descriptions — that they know what they have to do each Saturday.

“To me that’s important in major corporations and in football.”

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