FRONT ROYAL — Marion 'Budder' Haley is about to have his dream come true.
The Skyline three-sport senior standout will be headed to James Madison University on June 27 to begin his football career with the Dukes. The all-state wide receiver will be a preferred walk-on.
"I've always dreamed of playing Division 1 football," Haley said after his signing ceremony held at the school on Thursday. "It's always been a goal. It helps me, and I'm glad I made it."
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Haley said JMU found out about him by seeing videos of his highlights online and talked to him and offered him a spot.
He committed to JMU on April 15. Haley said he loves the school.
"I just like their facilities and their football stadium," Haley said. "It's amazing. The crowd goes crazy."
Haley spent his first two seasons at Warren County High School, before transferring to Skyline before his junior year. Skyline head football coach Heath Gilbert said when Haley first came to Skyline he asked him an important question.
"I asked him 'are you trying to be the best in Front Royal, or are you trying to be the best in the state?'" Gilbert said. "'Because that's how I'm going to coach you' And he told me right from that point 'I want to be the best in the state.' And that's how I approached him the whole time and we challenged him. We never really allowed him not to be the best version of himself, and he wanted to be the best version of himself as well. And he needs to take that mindset to JMU. This is the best of the best of not just Virginia, but all over the country. And you better have yourself ready to rock-and-roll, and he's got to understand that."
JMU lost in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals this past spring, going 7-1 on the season. The Dukes are regularly contending for a national championship.
They won the national championship in 2016, with several local players on the squad. Among them Skyline graduate Gerren Butler, Warren County graduate Gage Steele and Strasburg graduate Jonathan Kloosterman, who also came to JMU as a preferred-walk-on. Kloosterman eventually earned a scholarship. Haley said he is hoping to do the same as Kloosterman.
JMU starts its season on Sept. 4 with a home game against Morehead State.
Haley said he's excited to join such a strong football program.
"That program is crazy, it's phenomenal," Haley said. "I like how they all play together. ...They've won a championship. I've always wanted to win a ring with them."
As a junior, Haley had 70 receptions for 1,149 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was a Class 3 All-State selection.
This past spring things were a little different. Haley missed one game with an injury and the Hawks became more of a running team, in part due to a season-ending injury to quarterback Blake Appleton. Haley still led the area with 19 receptions for 340 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran the ball 15 times for 66 yards and one score.
Gilbert said while his numbers may not have stood out as much this season, Haley found other ways to make an impact, especially with his improved blocking.
"Maybe we couldn't get the ball to him as much as we wanted to, but he became a dominant blocker," Gilbert said. "I guarantee you that JMU seen that, from his junior year to his senior year and that had a lot to do with this opportunity. There was a couple plays where he pancaked two kids — just physical. It was a joy to see him be like 'OK what can I do?' And not be upset because you didn't have the opportunities that you got before. It's like 'OK, this is what I can do.'"
Haley said he wants to get bigger, faster and stronger and go to JMU and help the team win. He said he's excited to play at the next level.
"I'm ready, I can't wait to go down there and show them how I really am and play as hard as I can," Haley said. "And work my butt off."