A 'trial basis' return for Moreland
HARRISONBURG — James Madison football coach Mike Houston has a close eye on one particular sophomore cornerback this spring.
Jimmy Moreland — suspended and ultimately dismissed from the team in June 2015 for a violation of team rules by ex-coach Everett Withers — is on a “trial basis,” Houston said, back with the Dukes after a standout freshman campaign in 2014.
“He is trying out this spring, we are evaluating his performance on the field but I am probably just as much or more evaluating his performance in the classroom and his performance off the field, socially around campus and around town,” Houston said last week.
Moreland was one of three JMU players kicked off the team by Withers for the same action. According to the Rockingham County General District Court webpage, the three players — linebacker Rhakeem Stallings, defensive lineman K.J. Ford and Moreland — were charged with petty larceny of less than $200 (not from a person), a misdemeanor, on March 19, 2015, a result of an incident that occurred on Feb. 16, 2015.
Moreland, a Royal Palm Beach, Fla., native, stayed in school at Madison while away from the team. Withers’ director of football operations, John Streicher, said in a text message last week that Withers was also planning on giving Moreland a chance to re-join the team this spring on a tryout.
Withers bolted JMU in January, taking a job at Texas State.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds on the Dukes’ 2014 roster, cornerbacks coach Tripp Weaver said Moreland is about 12 pounds heavier since he began working out with the team this spring. Moreland will be a junior academically and a redshirt-sophomore athletically this fall, should he make the team.
“He is doing a pretty good job so far. He has a ways to go,” Houston said. “He’s got to overcome some things, performing well in the classroom as well as out here on the field and his personal life.”
James Madison sports information director Chris Brooks said Moreland is not available for comment this spring while trying out for the team. Though Moreland is not listed on Madison’s online roster, he is subject to team rules, Brooks said.
Moreland, Houston said, is paying his own way at JMU, essentially a walk-on for the Dukes. When asked if Moreland could be put on scholarship if he makes the team, Houston said, “We’ll see.”
“Jimmy had to learn some maybe accountability things that maybe he either knew and didn’t practice or didn’t know,” Weaver said. “We’ve held him to very strict standards academically and athletically and out in the public eye. He’s been great, he’s done everything I asked of him.”
The electric Moreland seized a starting role early in the 2014 season as a freshman, intercepting three passes and blocking five kicks. He played one of the two corner positions, starting 12 of 13 games opposite Taylor Reynolds.
Reynolds said he, along with some of the other players, kept in touch with Moreland while Moreland was off the team. A senior, Reynolds said it was important to make sure Moreland was “doing everything academically he needed to do to stay eligible to come back on the team.”
That meant making sure Moreland stayed out of trouble and didn’t feel “ostracized,” Reynolds said.
“As a friend, as a former teammate and as a present teammate it’s always good to keep guys like that out of trouble and keep them on a straight line,” Reynolds said. “I felt like as a group we did that.”
With Moreland out, the Dukes relied on several freshmen at cornerback in 2015. Rookies like Curtis Oliver, Rashad Robinson and Charles Tutt saw playing time, finding varying levels of success.
Robinson, a former Hermitage High School star quarterback, was hosted by Moreland for his official visit during the 2014 season. Robinson said it was “kind of shocking” to hear Moreland was kicked off the team, but is certainly glad to have Moreland back.
And the coaches don’t treat him any different on the field.
“[Coach Weaver] doesn’t treat Jimmy any different,” Robinson said. “He is on the team, you can’t treat him like he’s a prisoner or anything. He’s just like one of us, so that’s how he treats him.”
Weaver said on Moreland’s first day of practice this spring, the corner looked just like a freshman.
“When he came out here, he was pretty green,” Weaver said. “... You can tell he’s really starting to catch up and buying into what we’re doing and trying to buy into the techniques. As long as he keeps doing that, we want him to be a part of this football team. He’s got to continue to do that.”
Houston said Moreland — a two-time Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week and a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award for the national FCS Freshman of the Year — has some “God-given ability,” but is suffering from being away from football for nearly an entire year.
“He’s got to work himself back into shape there,” Houston said. “... We’re not going to be in a situation where we’re going to depend on him at all until he proves to me that we can count on him.”
Senior receiver Brandon Ravenel was not among the players to stay in touch with Moreland last season, he said, but is glad Moreland has another chance.
“I think this is a crazy world we live in and crazy things happen,” Ravenel said. “Sometimes good people make bad decisions and sometimes there’s repercussions for things that happen. It was disappointing and it’s sad to see something like that happen, but sometimes God blesses us with second chances and we’re lucky he’s lucky enough to have another one.”