Future still bright for JMU football

HARRISONBURG — The football season didn’t end the way James Madison University wanted it to, but a young Dukes’ squad still had plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

The Dukes lose only 11 seniors from this year’s team, and only five started in Saturday’s 44-38 loss to Colgate.

“There was a whole bunch of young guys out there on that field running around (Saturday),” JMU head coach Everett Withers said after the game. “They’re only going to get better. They’re only going to get better.”

The Dukes will lose only three starters on offense in tight end Deane Cheatham and offensive linemen Austin Lane and Dominick Richards.

On defense the Dukes will only lose defensive linemen Alex Mosley and Xavier Gates.

Of course, one of the biggest losses for the team occurred earlier in the season. JMU quarterback Vad Lee suffered a season-ending injury in the eighth game of the year. Despite the injury, Lee was named the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Offensive Player of the Year.

Sophomore quarterback Bryan Schor made four starts for the Dukes and threw for 847 yards on 70 for 111 passing and seven touchdowns with only one interception.

Schor said he has plenty to work on in the offseason, but the last four games were a great learning experience.

“I think I’ve done all right. I definitely could do better,” Schor said. “I’m looking forward to putting in a lot of work and getting a lot better, so I can play better in big-time games like (Saturday).”

The Dukes finished 9-3 on the season and were the No. 5 seed in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

JMU accomplished quite a bit this season. The Dukes were Co-CAA champions. They had the No. 1 offense in the country, and the No. 1 scoring offense for most of the season. JMU also garnered attention from ESPN, including hosting “ESPN GameDay.”

“I’m so proud of this team,” Lane said. “The fact that my last year I was able to get a CAA conference ring is amazing. The season didn’t end like we wanted it to, but we’ve had a helluva ride.”

Even in the season-ending loss the Dukes showed plenty of heart. They rallied from a 17-point second-quarter deficit and took a 28-24 halftime lead.

JMU linebacker and Warren County graduate Gage Steele said that team members know they can always come back when they’re down.

“We’ve got to keep on fighting, even if we are down. We’ve just got to keep on working, trying to stop them,” Steele said. “I was very proud of the way the defense was handling that, coming back and fighting and making sure that we’re doing everything right.”

Steele has been battling an injury the last part of the season, but said he felt back to his old self on Saturday. He led the Dukes with nine tackles in the game.

The junior said that the loss to Colgate will help motivate the team for next year.

“This is where it starts. You look back on these times, and it doesn’t feel good to lose,” Steele said. “And you just use that as motivation during the summer and during the winter workouts. And you remind yourself of what this felt like, and you don’t want to feel that again. So you work as hard as you can. That’s what we use as motivation.”

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