‘Preacher Man’

JMU quarterback Vad Lee runs during a game earlier this season. Lee leads the Dukes with 594 yards rushing. Photo courtesy JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — Vad Lee is known for making big plays with his arm and his legs for James Madison University every Saturday. However, in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, Lee is known at his church as “Preacher Man” and for his strong faith in God.

Lee said that his faith started at an early age.

“That’s been the little boy that’s been inside of me,” Lee said of his faith at a news conference this week.

“The little boy from 4 years old, probably even younger, going to church. … Just being blessed with having family that are spiritual and believe in that faith and were able to teach me the way,” he said. “I credit my grandma a lot for that, because every Sunday I used to meet her at church. She used to have to snatch me up sometimes, because I’m in there shouting and running around and doing all types of crazy stuff. That’s just been who I am.

“Even when I go back home to my church my name is ‘Preacher Man’ there, and they obviously remember me when I was younger doing all those things.”

JMU quarterback Vad Lee gets ready to throw a pass during a game earlier this season. Lee has thrown for 1,420 yards this year. Photo courtesy JMU Athletics Communications

Lee said that he took a leap of faith when he decided to leave Georgia Tech to come to JMU in January 2014. In less than two years that leap has proven to be a successful one for both him and the school.

Lee is putting up amazing numbers this season and leading JMU to heights the school hasn’t seen in quite a while.

Last week in a 38-20 victory over Stony Brook, Lee moved into a tie for second all-time with his 42nd career touchdown pass at JMU. He’s just nine touchdown passes shy of Justin Rascati’s record of 51 touchdown passes.

“It’s pretty cool, but that just goes back to me being blessed to be here,” Lee said. “Just having the opportunity to be with these guys every week and get better in the offseason and all the things we do together as a team. I just credit my teammates and my coaches for that.”

For the season, Lee has thrown for 1,420 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 594 yards and five touchdowns.

JMU coach Everett Withers said with Lee’s talent and the fast pace of JMU’s offense, it’s no surprise how well Lee has done.

“He’s a talented player. He’s got some talented receivers,” Withers said. “When you can run it, it opens up the ability to throw it, and that’s what’s happening right now. When you can run it, and we’re running it fairly well right now, it allows you to have some of those one-on-ones in the passing game. He’s able to hit those. He’s done a nice job of finding the right guys.”

In a 48-45 victory over Southern Methodist University, Lee led the Dukes down the field on a last-minute drive to win the game. He threw for 289 yards in the victory and ran for 276 yards. He is believed to be the only player in Division I history to throw and run for more than 275 yards in a game.

With his play and the JMU win came a lot of attention, especially on Lee. ESPN came to Harrisonburg and did a feature for Sportscenter on Lee.

Lee said it was important last week not to let those things be a distraction.

“Just remaining humble that’s the biggest thing with me and with this football team,” Lee said. “We know that things are going to come as you continue to have success, especially being undefeated, we know that we’re going to get everybody’s best.”

JMU is averaging 47.8 points and 640.8 yards per game. The Dukes are ranked No. 5 in both the FCS Coaches poll and the STATS FCS Top 25 poll.

Last year the Dukes won six straight games to end the regular season, before falling to Liberty University, 26-21, in the first round of the playoffs. Lee said the loss still stings and that’s why he worked harder than ever in the offseason.

“Losing that game and knowing the ball was in the offense’s hands and we couldn’t get it in. That’s something that kind of sticks with me throughout the year,” Lee said. “It’s something that I just want to build off of, and make sure that as a quarterback I want to put the offense in the right position to go score points and make the right plays. I’m just thankful for the coaching staff we have to trust me to do that.”

Lee’s future is bright. He certainly could have the opportunity to play in the National Football League next year. For now his focus is on winning games at JMU.

Lee said he knows JMU was the right place for him.

“I know that I have a bigger purpose in life, more than just football,” Lee said. “I truly believe that God brought me to James Madison for a reason, and it was beyond football. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity, because everybody don’t get this opportunity. It’s something that I want to give God the glory, because I am in the spotlight and I don’t want that to be missed.”

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