Depth key to Dukes’ success this season

Aaron Stinnie

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s depth has been evident all season. The Dukes’ depth was heavily showcased in last weekend’s come-from-behind victory over Weber State in the Football Championship Subdivision playoff quarterfinals.

JMU head football coach Mike Houston said he always emphasizes the ‘next-man up’ philosophy to his team.

The Dukes have been hit hard by injuries all season, but have still managed to win every game and not let the injuries slow them down.

“We’re confident in our entire team,” JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor said. “If one player goes down we’re not going to panic. We’re confident the next guys going to step up and make plays in the game.”

In the victory over Weber State, the Dukes had to turn to three freshman due to injuries and didn’t miss a beat. Starting redshirt senior offensive lineman A.J. Bolden suffered a meniscus tear last week and is out for the season. Houston said Bolden had surgery at the end of last week and is doing well. Bolden was replaced in the starting lineup at left guard by redshirt freshman Zaire Bethea.

Bryan Schor

During the game, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jahee Jackson suffered an injury and did not return. He was replaced at right tackle by true freshman Liam Fornadel.

“You know you never know when something is going to happen,” JMU redshirt senior offensive lineman Aaron Stinnie said. “You never know when your hats going to be drawn, So Z-Bo (Zaire Bethea) knew he had to come in and there couldn’t be any type of fall off. And then throughout the game you saw Jahee (Jackson) go down. And Liam, he’s a freshman, he had to step up and he wasn’t nervous. He knew what he had to do and he came in and did an amazing job.”

JMU senior tight end and 2014 Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman also suffered an injury early in the game and did not return. He was replaced by true freshman Clayton Cheatham, who finished the game with one catch for 14 yards.

JMU redshirt freshman kicker Ethan Ratke had the game-winning field goal against Weber State. Ratke replaced junior kicker Tyler Gray after the 2015 Millbrook graduate suffered an injury earlier this season.

The top-seeded Dukes (13-0) host No. 5 seed South Dakota State University (11-2) in the FCS semifinals at 4:30 p.m., Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

JMU’s offensive line has had to deal with injuries all season. JMU redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Tyree Chavious suffered a season-ending just weeks before preseason started. JMU redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Gerren Butler suffered a season-ending injury early in the season.

Stinnie said he was very happy with how Bethea stepped up and performed in his first start of his career.

“I’m really proud of him,” Stinnie said. “He came in, he wasn’t scared. He wasn’t nervous. He had all the confidence in the world. And we all had faith in him and we’re all proud of him. Because we knew that he could come in and do the job. All he had to do was have the confidence for it, and he 100 percent had that.”

Houston said offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring has done a great job with the offensive line this season. Houston said they’ve rotated guys in throughout the season and that did help in the win over Weber State.

“Liam (Fornadel) and Zaire (Bethea) have been spot playing throughout the year,” Houston said. “So they had experience coming in, but certainly we didn’t plan on having two freshman out there (against Weber State) on the offensive line. But I think it just says a lot about our team in general that they understand the whole next man up and we talk about it a lot. They always know they’re one snap away from being the guy. And I think that they all did work very hard to make sure that they were prepared.”