April 14, 2012

JMU QB Upbeat About Getting 6th Year

Justin Thorpe isn't banking on a sixth year of eligibility, but the James Madison quarterback thinks he's got a very good chance, considering he missed two seasons because of injury.

"I have a rock-solid case and I feel like I could get a sixth year, and it would really help," said Thorpe, who will be a senior this fall. "I don't see how they could turn it down. I missed two years due to injury, and that's what the guideline says."

Thorpe had surgery to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder (his non-throwing shoulder) coming out of Varina High School in Richmond and redshirted his freshman year at JMU. He said he couldn't have played that year, even if he had to. Thorpe then missed his sophomore season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee in the first game of the year.

JMU football coach Mickey Matthews said Thorpe missing his freshman year due to injury is the best argument for the NCAA to grant Madison's request for a sixth season. Matthews said he learned that after going through the process with often-injured former defensive tackle Brandon Beach before the 2005 season. The NCAA rejected Beach's request, Matthews said, because Beach wasn't hurt his true freshman year.

"A lot of people think you get a sixth year when you miss a lot of games when you're hurt a lot in your career, and that's not correct," Matthews said. "You get a sixth year if … the year you redshirt, if you're injured that year. The NCAA always looks favorably on that. Justin came in and had shoulder surgery the year he was redshirting his true freshman year, so I would think he would stand a good chance."

Under NCAA rules, an athlete may be granted a sixth season of eligibility if reasons "beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution" deprive a player "the opportunity to participate for more than one season" over a "five-year period." Thorpe certainly falls into that category.

NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford said sixth years were awarded by a committee. Figures on what percentage of athletes are granted an extra season were unavailable, he said.

Jennifer Phillips, JMU's assistant athletic director for compliance, echoed Matthews and Thorpe. Phillips, speaking generally, said cases like Thorpe's - where an athlete misses two seasons - have a "pretty high chance" of going through. But, she added, it's on a case-by-case basis. She said most cases are decided within a month to six weeks.

That means Thorpe should know by the end of April.

Obviously, an additional year would benefit the Dukes as much as Thorpe, who went 6-2 last year as a starter. Thorpe has played just 20 games in his career, which makes him, in terms of experience, a sophomore. (He's also missed five games because of a suspension last season, but since that was within his control, it wouldn't help his case for another year.)

JMU offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said this upcoming season could be a big one for Thorpe.
"We've been really good here when we've had a junior quarterback," Durden said. "Rodney Landers started playing right now."

Landers, who won the Dudley Award in 2008 as Virginia's top Division I football player, was a dual-threat quarterback who presided over some of the most dynamic offenses in JMU history.

Whether Thorpe develops into a Landers remains to be seen, but an extra year for Thorpe also means an extra year for JMU's three incoming freshman quarterbacks. If Thorpe gets another season, it gives those young QBs another year to develop. With Thorpe back for a sixth season, those three quarterbacks - the pocket-passing Michael Birdsong and Ian Fisher, and the run-oriented Taylor Reynolds - won't have to play until they're redshirt sophomores.

Matthews, though, said the development of young quarterbacks didn't factor into his decision to petition the NCAA for a sixth season for Thorpe.

"The two aren't related," Matthews said. "We bring in the best football players that we think can help out our program and that's what I was thinking when we recruited three quarterbacks."

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