Redshirt senior trio leading way for JMU offensive line
HARRISONBURG – Five years ago Matt Frank, Mitchell Kirsch and Kyle Rigney came to James Madison University’s football team together. There’s been a lot of changes in the program since then, but the trio of offensive lineman is still together.
Frank, Kirsch and Rigney are all redshirt seniors and they are playing a key role in JMU’s success.
“This fifth year redshirt senior class we’ve been through a lot, especially me and Kyle and Frank,” Kirsch said. “We came together as freshmen and we told each other we were going to stick it through no matter what happened – pull each other along. I owe a lot of my credit to those guys, and I’m sure they’d say the same thing about me.”
Kirsch said they became best friends quickly and developed a special bond on and off the field.
“After the first couple weeks I saw a lot of guys dropping out of school, off the team. For the most part we knew the type of guys, we were just from the first few days meeting each other,” Kirsch said. “We knew that we were tough, hard-nosed guys. We knew we would be able to stick it through and I’m just glad that it worked out that way.”
Kirsch came from St. John’s High School in Washington, D.C., and he was the only one of the three who came to JMU with a scholarship. Frank, from Fairfax, and Rigney, from Franklin County High School, would later earn a scholarship as well.
Rigney said it’s been great getting to know them over the last five years.
“We all have a little different backgrounds,” Rigney said. “I’m more of a country guy. They’re both from Northern Virginia, more of city guys. So it’s been nice to hear each other’s habits.”
During the past five years the trio has had five different offensive coordinators, four different position coaches and three different head coaches.
Kirsch said it really helped this season that offensive line coach Jamal Powell returned.
“It’s certainly been quite the roller coaster,” Kirsch said. “Every coach has different coaching styles. You just have to adjust and adhere to whatever they want. We’re just really thankful that coach Powell’s been here for two years. Somebody that we really connect to on a personal level, and especially on the field.”
This is the third year that the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Kirsch has started on the offensive line. Last year the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Frank started on the offensive line, and this year the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Rigney has joined them as a regular starter.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Rigney said of being a starter. “You have to prepare a little different. It’s a little different mindset, going into a game.”
Rigney starts at center, while Frank is next to him at right guard and Kirsch is right beside him at right tackle.
Kirsch said they are constantly talking to each other throughout the game.
“We talk nonstop when were out there,” Kirsch said. “Whether it’s friendly conversation or we’re telling each other what to do, we have a lot of fun with it.”
Both Kirsch and Rigney said with a laugh that Rigney is the brains of the operation, even if Frank likes to think he is.
“I like to think I’m the smart one. I try to get everybody in the right position. It’s my job to know the playbook and communicate well,” Rigney said. “Frank likes to think he’s the smart one, but he’s not. He’s a big strong kid and I love him. He plays hard. You tell him to do something and he does it. I love playing with him.”
The camaraderie and connection the trio have on the field has helped pave the way for JMU’s dynamic offense.
Through the first three games of the season the Dukes are averaging 339.7 yards rushing and 200 yards passing for a total of 539.7 yards per game.
JMU head football coach Mike Houston said the offensive line has played a big part in that success.
“That group gives us confidence going in that we’re going to have the opportunity to be able to do the things that we want to do,” Houston said. “I think that in each ballgame our offensive line has played well giving us the ability to go out and run the ball effectively. They’ve done a good job protecting (JMU quarterback) Bryan (Schor). … That group has really been the key to our production on offense.”
Houston said that the seniors are all hard-nosed type players, and it carries over top the rest of the offensive line.“I think you have those traits with those three guys and they’re your leaders and they’re very good players,” Houston said. “I think that says a lot about the identity of our offensive line, because that’s kind of how our offensive line plays.”
Redshirt juniors A.J. Bolden, a Millbrook graduate, and Aaron Stennie start at left guard and left tackle. Kirsch said all five of the starters on the offensive line are close and that carries over onto the field.
“I think the O-line is one of the positions you look at and everybody needs to be in synch on every single play,” Kirsch said. “Otherwise the running back gets hit in the backfield. The quarterback’s getting sacked. So it’s great that we are all best friends off the field. The five of us hang out all the time. We eat a lot together, of course, because we’re offensive linemen. So that helps a lot on the field.”
Both Kirsch and Rigney said that they’re happy with how they’ve played so far, but there’s still a lot of work to do. They also both said that it helps having such talented running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.
They’re in the final season of their five-year journey and Kirsch said they really want to make the most of it.
“I remember the first day me, Frank and Rigney all came out here (this season), we looked each other in the eye and we said, ‘Let’s make this the best year of our lives,'” Kirsch said. “We wanted to make sure we had a lot of fun with it. Now we know this is our team, and we want to act like it.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137, ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org.