May 1, 2012

Puts School Ahead Of Football

Jordan Anderson says he's a fast learner. As a pre-med health-science major with, no kidding, three minors, he'd better be.

The James Madison tailback credited his background - he's an Air Force brat - with helping him hone that skill.

"Moving around, going from school to school, I had to learn offenses to be able to play," said Anderson, who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly - the third stop in his prep career.

That's why Anderson isn't worried about missing more than half of the Dukes' 15 spring football practices due to conflicts with his classes.

"If I have a question, I'll just ask, and the coaches are good with explaining things to me," said Anderson, a former chemistry major and an aspiring orthopedic surgeon.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews isn't so sure.

"He can recover from it - he'll be the first to admit he's a little behind," Matthews said. "It's through no fault of his own… That's a very competitive position, and if you're not practicing, you're getting behind."

Anderson, a junior next fall, is expected to enter preseason practice in August as the No. 2 tailback behind Dae'Quan Scott.

With college sports nationally often criticized for not placing enough emphasis on academics, Anderson is something of a counterpoint.

This spring, Anderson spent Monday and Wednesday afternoons in an anatomy lecture class and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in a lab, exploring the various anatomical systems of a pre-dissected cadaver. The only practices Anderson made were on Friday and Saturday, and because he missed so much time during the week, he had only light contact (no one tackled him) as a safety precaution because, Matthews said, he "wasn't in football shape."

Anderson also missed every other Wednesday practice during the regular season because of physics and chemistry labs.

"It hurt Jordan last year," Matthews said. "He had reduced playing time because of it."

Still, the 5-foot-11, 212-pounder was effective with the time he got.

Anderson averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for nine touchdowns in 13 games. In back-to-back games against Richmond and Maine, he ran for 162 and 212 yards and finished with 858 on 169 carries for the season while sharing time with Scott, who was limited this spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

While Anderson and Scott were out, Hykeem Brodie and Dejor Simmons got most of the spring carries.

But Matthews said Anderson's situation isn't unusual.

Numerous players missed time this spring because of class conflicts. JMU even moved practice on occasion this spring because so many players - about 10 - were out due to classes. Several others were out because of injury, leaving Madison shorthanded.

The number of class-related absences even had Matthews considering moving practice to the mornings next fall. One thing has stopped him: the weather.

"The problem is when you get into the playoffs, I think it's difficult to do if you don't have an indoor workout facility," Matthews said. "You're thinking in November and December, it's 20 degrees at 7 o'clock in the morning. It's 50 in the afternoon. What time do you want to practice and get something done?"

Early-morning practices aren't uncommon. For example, the University of Virginia already practices in the morning, and Old Dominion went mornings this spring. Matthews said if JMU had an indoor practice facility - U.Va. is scheduled to open a $13 million, 78,000-square-foot complex next spring - he would go to mornings "in a heartbeat."

But with an $88 million basketball arena at the forefront of JMU's construction plans, an indoor practice facility likely isn't getting off the wish list any time soon. Until then, the Dukes are going to have to deal with class conflicts - not that the academic-minded Anderson would mind switching to morning practices.

"It wouldn't matter to me," he said. "I like morning classes. In all, education is the main reason we are here, so more class attendance would be optimal for me."

He soon might get the best of both worlds.

Anderson plans to take summer classes that would, in theory, free him from school conflicts in the fall. He also attended offseason conditioning this winter and watched film at home to help compensate for what he's missed.

And, of course, he's a fast learner.

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