Dukes pleased with first week of football practice

JMU quarterback Bryan Schor (17) holds up the National Championship trophy, along side JMU head coach Mike Houston, after the Dukes beat Youngstown State University in the Football Championship Subdivision title game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The Dukes started practicing last week with 14 starters returning. AP file

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s football team is not looking back.

The reigning Football Championship Subdivision national champions have completed the first week of practice, but the mindset for the team has been no different than it has been in the past.

“We forgot about it,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said about winning the national championship. “This year’s team hadn’t done anything. The only thing we’re guaranteed of is we get to play 11 games. So we’ve got to focus on pushing ourselves every day to be the very best that we can be. And we’ll have to go out and earn everything that we’re able to achieve this year. We’re going to get everybody’s best so we got to be ready to go every Saturday.”

The Dukes return 14 starters from last year’s team, including nine on defense.

JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor said he’s been very pleased with the way the team has been working during practice.

“I think it’s gone really well,” Schor said after Tuesday’s practice at Bridgeforth Stadium. “I think one thing you’ll notice about our team is we’re very competitive. If you take a day off the defense will expose you. And if the defense takes a day off we’re going to do everything we can to have the better day that day. It’s definitely been really competitive and its fun to be out here.”

Schor and JMU running back Cardon Johnson were named to the preseason watch list for the College Football Performance Awards FCS National Performer of the Year trophy, the CPFA announced Tuesday.

The Dukes have had to deal with several injuries.

Redshirt sophomore Tyree Chavious suffered a torn achilles a few weeks before the first practice. Houston said he’s already had surgery and is with the team rehabbing, but he will not be able to play this season. Chavious played in 10 games last season and started in three playoff contests.

The Dukes were able to offset the injury by picking up two offensive line transfers over the last few weeks. E.J. Donahue, a 6-foot-3 308-pound redshirt sophomore, transferred from the University of Maryland. Pika Leota, a 6-foot-5, 315 pound redshirt freshman, transferred from the University of South Carolina.

JMU graduated three starters on the offensive line from last year’s squad. The two returners are 2013 Millbrook High School graduate A.J. Bolden and redshirt senior Aaron Stennie, who is currently sidelined with an injury. Houston said Stennie is doing well, and he expects him to be practicing by the end of the week.

Houston said redshirt sophomore and 2015 Skyline High School graduate Gerren Butler is competing for the starting spot at right guard this season.

“Gerren has the ability,” Houston said. “He’s a guy that this is his first real opportunity to get into the starting lineup. So he’s worked very, very hard. It’s one of those things where the competition is probably going to go on for another week or two.”

Senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman, a 2014 Strasburg High School graduate, has missed all of the preseason practice so far as he recovers from off season surgery.

Houston said Kloosterman should be back soon.

“He’s progressing really well,” Houston said of Kloosterman. “He did some stuff (Tuesday), kind of worked through our offensive script on the side. So we expect him to be practicing fully here in the next week or so.”

Houston said he has been very pleased with how the true freshmen have done so far. He said that freshmen offensive linemen Jake Glavin and Liam Fornadel have been impressive.

He said he’s not sure how many will play this season, but he really feels good about the freshman class.

“The thing I like about that class is, I think that class is going to be a class where you’re not going to have many guys that don’t turn out being really good players,” Houston said. “We really seem to have done well with that group.”