HARRISONBURG - Sage Harold was born Taurean Sage Harold, a name devised by his grandmother. But, later in life, Harold decided that "Taurean" just wasn't him.
"I feel like Taurean didn't fit my personality," said Harold, a mega-athletic rising sophomore, 6-foot-3, 227-pound James Madison defensive end with sprinter speed. "I'm a real upbeat guy. ... On the field, I just don't try to scream so much so I can hold my air in and put that toward making plays. Off the field, I try to make everybody smile, and I feel like Sage was short - just bold. Like, 'Sage!' Then Taurean was just like a real calm, downbeat type guy - smart, nerdy type guy. 'Taurean. Taurean.' Didn't like Taurean, for real."
After Saturday's spring game - JMU's first since 2009 - Harold's logic kind of makes sense.
JMU coach Mickey Matthews described Harold as the game MVP, calling him a "stallion" as he anchored a superlative performance for the defense. Still the offense "won" the glorified scrimmage, 26-21.
"The highlight of the day was, no question, the play of Sage Harold," Matthews said after the game, just as the forecasted storm - which held off long enough to play the game in sunshine - reached Bridgeforth Stadium. "He had two or three sacks, and we really struggled to block him."
The downside of a great defensive day? The offense. Quarterback Justin Thorpe looked OK at times, but the offense lacked rhythm and struggled to protect the quarterback. The Dukes, surprisingly, also ran a lot despite focusing so much on passing during the spring. Saturday, JMU's run-to-pass ratio was 37-18.
"I did pretty good," Thorpe said. "We didn't pass as much as I thought we would today - like we did for the last couple of practices. The things that I did, I felt we're pretty decent."
The game's only touchdown came from fullback Deane Cheatham, who scored on a 3-yard run. Cameron Starke also kicked a 37-yard field goal.
According to the rough stats (the structured nature of the game, which catered to situations and featured no kick returns, made it difficult to keep true stats), Thorpe completed four of eight passes for 26 yards. His long was 20 yards and he was sacked once. He rushed for nine yards on three carries, but it's hard to measure his showing on the ground because he was designated non-contact.
There also weren't many deep balls thrown, and inexperienced tailbacks Hykeem Brodie, a rising senior and former Penn State walk-on, and Dejor Simmons, a rising sophomore, got a lot of work in the absence of Dae'Quan Scott, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and only fielded punts Saturday. Neither Brodie (a game-high 61 yards rushing on 10 carries) nor Simmons (nine for 42) dazzled Matthews.
"They had their moments," he said.
"He's played better," Matthew said. "He missed on a few passes. Had a few drops. He's played better than that this spring."
Matthews said the offense generally wasn't very good - in part because of the all the players missing. Total, 17 (on both of sides of the ball) were held out of the contact portion of Saturday's practice - the 15th and final of the spring-practice period.
"I thought we really had a good defensive scrimmage," Matthews said. "I thought it was our best defensive scrimmage of the spring and probably as poor as we've played on offense. We just didn't play very well on offense. It's hard to tell. We held a lot of kids out, so it was difficult to tell, but I think we played real well on defense."
Matthews said they had no flow on offense.
"We really had a good spring throwing the ball, and I didn't think we threw it very good today," he said. "We didn't throw it and catch it. The biggest thing is we didn't have any rhythm on offense. I've really been encouraged by us offensively [this spring before Saturday].
Usually, the reason you don't have any rhythm on offense is you're really playing good on defense."
The defensive line, especially.
"They're pretty good," Thorpe said. "Backups, starters - they have a nice rotation and it shows 'cause they were all in the backfield."
Because of injuries, reserves played most of Saturday. The hit of the day came from rising sophomore safety Eric Magruder, who laid out walk-on quarterback Michael Lopresti.
But Harold was the star. He gets off the line quickly and cuts like a tailback when making his way to the QB. But fellow defensive end Brandon Lee said that Harold is too much about speed. But once he refines his technique, Lee said, Harold will be very dangerous.
"Honestly, we're relying on Sage, with his speed, just to make plays like that because he can make plays," Lee said. "I think he's relying on speed too much, but once he gets that technique down, he's going to be one our top players."
And that's Harold's plan. Last season, he showed sparks in 11 games, recording 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks. This fall?
"I hope and pray that I can be 'The Man' at some point," Harold said. "All I do is work hard and give all I can towards the game and my team, just really playing for the man next to me."
As long as they don't call him Taurean.
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