JMU’s Abdullah finishing career in style

JMU's Khalid Abdullah reacts as he scores a touchdown against North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals on Dec. 16. Abdullah leads the Dukes in rushing with 1,708 yards. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications


HARRISONBURG — Khalid Abdullah is having a strong senior season.

The JMU tailback is second in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards (1,708) and said there are a lot of factors that have went into his success this season.

Abdullah said “just staying in the training room making sure that I’m healthy and just spending a lot of time looking at film going over some things with my coaches and the rest of the coaching staff,” were key components to his consistency this season.

“Just making sure that I’m ready to go out there and play to a T every single time we’ve been on the field,” he added.

Another big factor Abdullah said has been the play of the offensive line in front of him. As a team, JMU has rushed for 284.6 yards per contest, which is fourth in FCS.

JMU's Khalid Abdullah runs against North Dakota State on Dec. 16 in Fargo, North Dakota. Abdullah has scored an FCS-best 20 rushing touchdowns this season. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

“They’re amazing,” Abdullah said of JMU’s offensive line. “I wouldn’t be where I am as far as on a consistent basis, without the offensive line. They go out there and they hit those bags every day. They do something that is very special. Their bond, I play running back I’m in a different position group, but from the outside looking in just their bond is amazing. They’re such good people and I think that’s what brings them together and allows them to have that cohesiveness that you see every single day on the field.”

JMU plays in the FCS Championship game against Youngstown State University at noon Saturday.

Abdullah is averaging 122 yards per game this season for the Dukes. He also has 15 pass receptions for 183 yards and three scores. He said he enjoys being able to catch the ball some as well and help the team out.

He said that he’s also really enjoyed working with running backs coach De’Rail Sims this season. Sims is a former running back at the University of Pikeville (Kentucky, 2006-08), and Abdullah said it helps that Sims actually played the position he’s coaching.

“It just goes to show he can put himself in your shoes and basically think like he’s a running back,” Abdullah said. “A lot of position coaches aren’t able to do that. A lot of different coaches coach different positions that they didn’t play. So the fact that he has played the position goes a lot into what he’s teaching us. We’re able to listen to him and basically be sponges and when we’re in the meeting rooms just soak up all the information that he’s giving us. And just try to go out there each and every day to get better.”

Many of JMU’s opponents have tried to slow down or stop JMU’s running game, and Abdullah admitted it’s hard not to get frustrated in those times. But he said that the key is being patient and knowing that eventually he will have a big run.

Abdullah is from Newport News and played for Heritage High School. He has made the most of his career at JMU.

He has rushed for 3,577 yards in his career, which is second all-time in school history. Abdullah is the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (39). He is also fourth all-time in all-purpose yards (3.976).

The 5-foot-10 220-pound tailback has accomplished a lot in his career. In the FCS semifinals he and his teammates accomplished something special. Not only did they earn a trip to Frisco, Texas for the FCS title game, but they also beat five-time defending champion North Dakota State University on the road to get there. North Dakota State had never lost a playoff game in the Fargo Dome before JMU’s victory three weeks ago.

“They played us hard. They played us all the way until the end of the game,” Abdullah said. “We trusted in ourselves as a team. We felt like we could go out there and get the win, and that’s something that a lot of teams going in there weren’t able to do in the past few years. So the fact that we were able to do that and pull that out was amazing.”

One of the players on the sidelines for JMU in the semifinal game was redshirt junior running back Cardon Johnson.

The team’s second-leading rusher for the Dukes this year (704 yards), Johnson suffered an injury in the ninth game of the season and is out for the year.

Johnson, also from Newport News, and Abdullah are best friends and have known each other since they were young. They have played with and against each other most of their lives. Abdullah said it’s been tough seeing Johnson not be able to play, but he knows he’ll come back strong next season.

“He’s definitely someone whose very resilient and I’ve known him for a long time,” Abdullah said. “So we are out there playing the game for him. He’ll be on the trip (to Texas). So the fact that he goes out there, he’s able to experience what were going to do on Saturday is something that’s going to be very special for us, and very special for him that we’ll remember for a very long time.”

With only one game left in his career, Abdullah said he’s trying to not think about the fact that it’s his last game. He said he just wants to stay focused on this next game just like he has every other game this season.

“I just got my head down. I’m just grinding kind of continuing the season and finish it out with a bang,” Abdullah said. “You play this game for a reason and we’re in position to do all the things that we wanted to do. Accomplish all the goals that we wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the season. So I got my head down right now, maybe when it’s all over I’ll look up.”

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