Dukes pleased with football spring season

JMU's Bryan Schor prepares to make a pass against Youngstown State in the FCS National Championship game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The Dukes will hold their last practice of the spring season today. AP file photo

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team wraps up its spring season today and the Dukes are feeling pretty good about how things have went over the last few weeks.

JMU, just three months removed from winning the Football Championship Subdivision national title, has been practicing at least twice a week since Feb. 28. Today’s practice will be the last one for the Dukes until preseason practice starts in August.

The Dukes improved throughout last season on defense under first-year head coach Mike Houston. He said it’s been great to see how much better they look on defense in the spring compared to last spring.

“There’s no comparison,” Houston said after Saturday’s spring game. “We have a chance to be a good defensive football team this fall. Because even though we had some guys out there making some plays today and showing their abilities, we had some good football players standing on the sidelines too (due to injury). When we have our core group out there I think we have a chance to be pretty good on that side of the ball.”

JMU’s defense won the spring game, 53-39, over the offense in a format that used a revised scoring system. The defense was awarded points for stats such as sacks, pass breakups and forcing a punt.

The Dukes, who went 14-1 last year, allowed only 13 points per game over their final six games of the 2016 season.

JMU loses several key starters on defense, including linebacker and Warren County graduate Gage Steele and defensive back Taylor Reynolds.

Safety Jordan Brown said that he felt like the defense has looked sharp throughout spring practices.

“I think we’ve came a long way,” Brown said. “We got some younger guys filling in some roles. I think the chemistry we have is great. We’re ready for the new year.”

JMU also lost some quality players on the offensive side of the ball.

One of the positions where the Dukes lost a lot of talent is at wide receiver. Starters Brandon Ravenel, Domo Taylor and Rashard Davis were all seniors.

JMU quarterback Bryan Schor said despite losing some talent he believes that the Dukes will be fine in the passing game.

“We have a lot of guys that are stepping up,” Schor said. “The question I often get asked this year is how are the wide receivers going to fill in the shoes of those guys? And I’ve kind of said relax and wait and see because we got some really talented wide receivers. And I think everyone will be excited when they see those guys on the field this year.”

One of the guys stepping up is tight end Nick Carlton. The freshman will likely be replacing back-up tight end Dan Schiele.

Starting tight end Jonathan Kloosterman missed the entire spring season after having surgery after the 2016-17 season ended. That allowed Carlton to have more reps at tight end. In the spring game Carlton had two receptions for 48 yards, including a one-handed grab on a fourth-down play.

Carlton said he played wide receiver in high school, so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment moving to tight end. He said Kloosterman has helped him a lot in adjusting to the position.

“He’s taught me a lot from like the blocking schemes, passing schemes, all that,” Carlton said. “How to prepare myself mentally going into practice each day. He’s taught me a lot of good things.”

Schor led the FCS in completion percentage (73.1 percent) last season. He had 29 touchdown passes and threw for 3,002 yards.

Schor said he’s happy with his spring individually, but he’s not satisfied. He said he’s still got some things to work on in his game and he wants to keep improving and getting better.

Even though the offense struggled at times in the spring game against the JMU defense, Schor said he feels like they’ve definitely improved throughout the spring.

“I don’t know if we showed everything out there (Saturday) that we’ve built on this spring, but I know offensively we definitely made strides to become a better football team,” Schor said. “I’m proud with how our spring has gone.”

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