JMU's Early Spring Standouts
HARRISONBURG — Five practices constitute only one-third of the entire spring, but provide enough time for players to make an initial impression on their coaches.
With James Madison attempting to reload after graduating 16 starters or key contributors from this past season’s team that reached the FCS national title game, fresh faces have had the chance to take reps with the first-team offense or defense right away.
Through two weeks of practice at JMU, here are four individual Dukes off to a great start, one thriving position group and a position group on the other end of the spectrum.
RB Percy Agyei-Obese
Being the only healthy running back to start the spring has given sophomore Percy Agyei-Obese more first-team touches than any other skill player on offense.
Seniors Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharp have yet to practice with injuries that have lingered from the fall into the spring, and senior Marcus Marshall suited up for the first time this past Saturday.
Agyei-Obese has taken advantage of regular reps.
Earlier this spring, JMU coach Mike Houston said the Frederick, Md., native was doing everything he could to put himself in position to play more this fall.
In 2017, Agyei-Obese rushed for 273 yards and a touchdown in limited action behind Sharp, Johnson, Marshall and graduated running back Taylor Woods.
“We’ve talked about Percy,” Houston said, “but I think he’s continuing to have a good spring.”
DE Ron'Dell Carter
One of the few veterans that has practiced every day since the start of the spring, junior defensive end Ron’Dell Carter is reestablishing himself at his favorite position.
This past fall, he was used some at defensive end, but saw most of his playing time at defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations.
In his first season at JMU after transferring from Rutgers, he recorded 28 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
“I’m back to my primary position and I get to focus on that,” Carter said. “I’ve got to work on stopping the run more. Obviously everybody wants to rush the passer, but before you rush the passer, you’ve got to stop the run on the first two plays. I’ve got to get my hands inside more, drive my feet at the point of contact and stay low.
“The pass rushing will come, but I know for me, I need to work on stopping the run.”
So far, Houston likes what Carter is doing.
“Ron’Dell Carter is playing at a high level,” Houston said.
Carter said he’s more than willing to play inside if the team needs him to this fall, but he’s happy to be improving at end right now.
TE Clayton Cheatham
Whoever wins the quarterback job is going to want to make sure to develop a relationship with sophomore tight end Clayton Cheatham.
Cheatham showed in his first fall on campus he is capable of being a weapon in the passing game, hauling in eight catches for 137 yards and four touchdowns while filling in for graduated former starter Jonathan Kloosterman.
“I think Clayton Cheatham, and he’s got a little experience but still not a ton,” Houston said, “he’s having a good spring.”
The former Hanover High School standout is still in his first full year of playing tight end after a prep career at quarterback.
CB Jamari Currence
The youngest player on JMU’s roster has impressed Houston.
“Jamari Currence, who is really a high school senior and is supposed to be going to the prom next week, but I like the way he competes,” Houston said.
Currence like Agyei-Obese is benefiting from plenty of reps. Senior cornerbacks Rashad Robinson and Curtis Oliver and junior cornerback Charles Tutt have yet to practice, so Currence has earned snaps with the first-team defense, playing on the opposite side of senior Jimmy Moreland.
As a senior at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C., this past fall, he tallied seven interceptions.
Offensive Line Thriving
Offensive linemen Liam Fornadel, Jake Glavin and Zaire Bethea could’ve all been featured in the standout individual category, but since all three are playing well according to their coaches, it’s helping the unit move in the right direction.
Fornadel is taking reps at right tackle, next to Glavin at right guard. Bethea is playing left guard. Returning starters Mac Patrick and Jahee Jackson are at center and left tackle, respectively.
“Jake Glavin, he’s having a great spring,” Houston said. “You look at him and Liam on the right side right now and it’s a pair that’s really playing at a high level. I’m pleased with those two guys right there.”
Glavin took a redshirt year this past fall, but Fornadel played immediately since he was needed. He made two starts at right guard and also appeared at tackle.
“Liam Fornadel is having a great spring,” JMU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “And I know [offensive line coach Steve] Shankweiler has been really impressed with Liam because he didn’t realize Liam is just a freshman and he was a true freshman, so I know he’s having a standout deal.
“And I think Zaire Bethea is having a standout spring up front too.”
Receivers Have Room To Improve
Beyond projected starters Riley Stapleton and David Eldridge, JMU needs some its young receivers to emerge to start alongside the previously mentioned or at least provide depth behind them.
Redshirt freshmen Daniel Adu, Kyndel Dean, Jamir Hudson and Josh Sims all have taken at least some snaps with the starting offense.
“You see Josh make a tough catch and then you see him make a bust,” Houston said. “You see Kyndel Dean make a couple of nice catches and then he’s supposed to subbing in, but you can’t find him because I don’t know where he is on the sideline.
“They got to get to where they are playing like an experienced player, but you’ve got to have experience to do that. It comes slow sometimes.”
Kirkpatrick said the group struggled this past Saturday when the team worked on third-down and red-zone situations.
“I didn’t think we handled press-man coverage very well,” Kirkpatrick said. “With our young wideouts, that’s one thing they’re not used to. You don’t see a lot of that in high school and they’ve got to learn to be patient, work the footwork and get those corners off of ‘em cause they’re beating ‘em up a little bit, but it’s a process and right now we’ve got a talented group of young receivers, but they’re a long way from being ready.”