HARRISONBURG — The seniors on James Madison University’s football team have played a big part in the run the Dukes have been on.
JMU head football coach Mike Houston said on Tuesday that the 23 seniors have been a very special group.
“Just like with last year’s (senior) group, this group this year they were the leaders of the team when I got here — they were the older players,” Houston said in his weekly news conference. “And I think their commitment, their belief in myself and the rest of the staff and their ability to really come together over the last two years has built the backbone of this program.”
The Dukes play North Dakota State University in the Football Championship Subdivision championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, at noon Saturday.
Seniors have led the Dukes on both sides of the ball. JMU senior quarterback Bryan Schor has thrown for 3,074 yards on 257-for-385 passing. Schor has 26 touchdown passes and also has rushed for 303 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah has 54 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Houston said the seniors have been great role models for the other players on the team.
“There’s a lot of talent in this (senior) class, obviously. But to be honest I think this group plays above its talent level,” Houston said. “I think that the intangibles with the character and the toughness, and the work ethic and the leadership that this group has, allows them to play above what their God-given ability is. I think that they set the standard for the classes to come.”
The Dukes beat Youngstown State University in last year’s FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas.
Houston said the experience of playing in a championship game will definitely help his team this week. One of the biggest things is understanding what the schedule will be like leading up to the game.
“We do have a different hotel this year, but other than a different hotel everything else is the same,” Houston said. “The schedule’s very similar as far as our responsibilities with the NCAA. Our practice routine — we’ll be able to do about the same thing as we did last year so that’s positive. The ability to kind of know the stadium.”
The Dukes have won 26 straight games. North Dakota State won five national titles in a row before losing to JMU last year in the FCS semifinals.
Houston said the team will have an early morning practice today without pads, and then will head to Charlottesville around 11 a.m. for their flight to Frisco.
JMU will practice in Toyota Stadium Thursday and Friday to prepare for the game.
“I think all those experiences (from last year) will help everybody just be prepared for what to expect when they get there,” Houston said. “And I think that takes some of the angst off of it for everybody — players and coaches. So then you can just focus on what’s the most important, which is playing the game.”