Steele, Ravenel pleased with JMU’s first day of practice

HARRISONBURG – James Madison University rising seniors Gage Steele and Brandon Ravenel experienced their last first day of football practice on Monday, and the pair were pleased with how things went.

“It’s wild. I never thought this day would ever come, but it’s truly a blessing because these guys, they’ve been my brothers,” Ravenel said after the team’s morning practice. “They’ve taken care of me, and I’ve never experienced anything like this and it’s amazing and I’m truly grateful for it.”

Steele, a Warren County graduate, said he was really pleased with how well everyone was communicating on the first day.

“There was a lot of communication, everybody staying on one page,” Steele said. “That’s what we look forward to when we come out here – communicate and make sure everybody is on the same page and executing very well.”

It was also the first fall practice for new JMU head coach Mike Houston. He said that he was happy with what he saw, but he doesn’t put a lot of stock in a first practice.

“It was a good first day,” Houston said. “The kids hopped around good, good energy. … There was good effort. They were trying to do what the coaches had coached them to do, so I thought that was a positive.”

Houston was hired in February to take the place of former coach Everett Withers, who left to take the head coaching job at Texas State University.

Ravenel, one of the top returning wide receivers, said he was very happy with how focused the team was.

“It was kind of weird, because I felt like a lot of guys were way more focused than all excited,” Ravenel said. “Because all the excitement and stuff, it’s going to die off anyway, but the focus is something that’s going to be there. To get locked in so early is really important. I think that’s something I really liked about today.”

One of the key positions that is up for grabs this season is at quarterback. JMU redshirt junior Bryan Schor returns after being the starter for the last four games last year. Schor took the place of Vad Lee, who graduated in May, after Lee suffered a season-ending injury. Schor threw for 847 yards and seven touchdown passes.

Connor Mitch, a transfer from the University of South Carolina, will also be in the running for the starting spot. Mitch transferred to JMU last month. The junior was the starting quarterback at South Carolina last year until suffering a season-ending injury in the second game of the season.

“Connor’s at a little bit of a disadvantage, because he wasn’t with us all spring and he wasn’t with us the bulk of the summer,” Houston said. “So the big thing is just getting him acclimated and getting him ready to compete. I thought they both had some bright spots and we’ll look at film as far as reads and the ball being where it was supposed to be. … I thought they both had a good day.”

Schor took most of the first-team snaps in Monday’s practice, but Houston said that was to be expected since he knows the offense better than Mitch right now.

Ravenel said that he thought all the quarterbacks did a good job.

“All our quarterbacks are just unbelievable,” Ravenel said. “Bryan did an amazing job being a vocal leader and a physical leader on the field. He’s making things a lot easier on us, and we need to take it on ourselves, all the other positions, to match the intensity and just keep going.”

The Dukes have lost in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Last year they had a 9-3 record, and they were the Colonial Athletic Association co-champions.

JMU’s season opener is at home on Sept. 3 against Morehead State.

Steele, a linebacker, said he knows this is his last year and he’s excited to see how well the team can do.

“It’s a last go round, and I want to make the most of it,” Steele said. “A lot of us want to come out here and we got to prove something, and we’re really excited about what we can do and we’re looking forward to it.”

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