JMU Football’s Most Valuable Player: Rashad Robinson

This blurry screenshot (it’s artistic) was taken from this highlight video

A few weeks ago, I posed a hypothetical question on Twitter.

We’ll ignore the fact that I lied about posting this article last week and get on to the rules of this fictional game.

  • The player must be on the 2018 roster.
  • You only get the player for the 2018 season.
    • Picking a freshman for his future value won’t work in this hypothetical.
  • Those are the only rules. You can pick any player on the roster as long as you have some justification.

My Pick: Rashad Robinson

I’m going with the CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for a few reasons. I looked at position importance, consistency, playmaking ability and leadership/intangibles.

Position Importance: I don’t think cornerback is the most important position on the field, but having a lockdown corner is quite the commodity. Being able to shut down an elite receiver/one side of the field can change the outcome of games. I consider Robinson the best corner in the FCS. His ability to limit star receivers and contribute timely turnovers makes his role valuable.

Consistency: This is one of many areas where Robinson excels. He rarely gets beat by wide receivers, and he’s played in 38 games over the course of three seasons, showing that he’s not a big injury risk. If I’m picking a player to build my team around, I need to know they can deliver. Robinson delivers time and time again. In last year’s season-opening win over East Carolina, Robinson grabbed two timely interceptions. Fast forward to the FCS Semifinal against South Dakota State, and the rising senior tallied a career-high 12 tackles, including a sack. He improved as the year progressed. Few players across the country showed the consistent production that Robinson did in 2017.

Playmaking: One forced fumble, one touchdown, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions, 16 passes defended and 51 tackles makes for one heck of a stat line. Robinson put together a monster 2017 campaign and made impact plays all season. He was barely ran down on an interception return against William & Mary that could’ve easily resulted in a touchdown, and redeemed himself with an interception return for a touchdown in the following week’s win over New Hampshire. When he makes an interception, he’s a threat to score.

His playmaking hasn’t been a one-year trend, either. During his freshman season, Robinson recorded an interception, a blocked kick, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and a CAA-leading three fumble recoveries. Building your team around a defensive player requires a special talent with the ability to create turnovers and make game-altering plays. Robinson does just that.

Leadership: He’s an experienced senior that leads by example. He’s relatively reserved in media obligations and is quick to credit his teammates. By all accounts, he’s the type of player you want on your team. He’s a good teammate, ridiculously good athlete and consistent performer. His ability and humility make him a player that younger athletes within the program look up to for guidance. If you’re a defensive player, especially in the secondary, you’re looking to emulate Robinson.

Choosing a player from JMU’s roster to build a team around isn’t easy. With players like Cardon Johnson, Marcus Marshall, Riley Stapleton and Darrious Carter, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. I think Robinson stands slightly above the rest because of his consistency.

Disagree? Send me (@BennettConlin) a tweet with your pick. If you’re lucky, I’ll retweet your suggestion to my massive following of 300+ people, many of whom are relatives. 

CAA Football 2018 Preseason Predictions

Tuesday marks CAA Media Day, which (kind of) signals the beginning of JMU football’s 2018 season. The Dukes haven’t lost a conference game under head coach Mike Houston, and everyone expects JMU to be the preseason pick to win the conference again in 2018. While the Dukes are the CAA favorite, several other squads should make a legitimate run at the conference crown. Ahead of CAA Media Day, I share my thoughts on where each team stands headed into the start of the season.

1. JMU

The Dukes lead the pack for numerous reasons. Defensively, JMU’s secondary could be one of the nation’s best. Corners Rashad Robinson and Jimmy Moreland both have the potential to earn a spot on NFL rosters next year and should make it difficult for opposing wide receivers to reach their statistical averages. I’d expect very few receivers to crack 100 yards receiving against the Dukes.

Darrious and Ron’Dell Carter create a fearsome defensive line. If unproven yet talented players like John Daka live up to the hype, the defensive line could outperform last year’s group.

Ben DiNucci and Cole Johnson hope to earn the starting quarterback gig for the Dukes. After losing Bryan Schor to graduation, the quarterback position becomes one of the biggest question marks for the Dukes. There’s no guarantee that either DiNucci or Johnson play up to Schor’s level, but with the depth the Dukes possess at running back, they might not need to. Riley Stapleton and David Eldridge give the eventual quarterback two solid receiving options. The team’s depth at tight end helps make up for a lack of experience at the wide receiver position outside of Stapleton and Eldridge.

2. New Hampshire

A staple in the postseason, this is one of New Hampshire’s best teams in recent memory. The Wildcats return their leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler in 2018. The offense, led by quarterback Trevor Knight, has the potential to be particularly scary. Senior wide receiver Neil O’Connor averaged just under 100 yards receiver per game last season, and figures to be just as dynamic this year.

On defense, linebacker Dean Quinlen returns. The 230-pound beast tallied 124 tackles in 2017. The team also returns Jae’Wuan Horton, who totaled 8.5 sacks last year.

With playmakers on both sides of the ball and six home games, including five of their last seven contests, the Wildcats have a legitimate chance to challenge JMU for the CAA title. If New Hampshire plays up to its potential, the Dukes will have a very hard time winning on December 3.

3. Delaware

Danny Rocco brought a breath of fresh air to a program in need of some energy. Despite abysmal offensive showings in 2017, Delaware finished the season 7-4 and a borderline playoff team. This season, the Blue Hens have a legitimate shot to make a run at a CAA and national title.

Linebacker Troy Reeder headlines the team’s ferocious defense. Reeder, a Penn State transfer, recorded 89 tackles last season and earned First Team All-CAA honors. He’s an NFL prospect with great size, instincts and leadership ability. There’s no doubt the defense has the pieces around Reeder to once again remain among the conference’s elite, but can the Blue Hens score enough points to win a CAA title?

We should get a feel for whether the Blue Hens are actually a national title contender when they head to Fargo to take on North Dakota State on Sept. 22. That’s a must-watch game for any CAA football fan.

Look for that game to be a turning point in Delaware’s season. I don’t see the Blue Hens winning, but with a bye week following the showdown, the Blue Hens will be able to regroup with newfound knowledge about how they compare to the best team in the country. Delaware will look completely different when the postseason comes around compared to when they play the Bison on Sept. 22.

4. Villanova

A 5-6 record is not what the doctor ordered in Mark Ferrante’s first season as the head coach. Despite the sub .500 mark, Villanova was a good football team. The Wildcats nearly won a game over FBS opponent Temple, they were in the game against JMU until the fourth quarter, and they started the season 4-2 before running into a tough slate of games and a handful of unfortunate injuries.

I like Villanova’s 2018 schedule with both JMU and New Hampshire travelling to Pennsylvania. I like the team’s steady defense and the return of quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. If he stays healthy, expect Villanova to contend for a CAA title and playoff berth.

5. Richmond

Losing Kyle Lauletta hurts, but Kevin Johnson offers a ton of potential at the quarterback position. Expect him to contribute immediately to an offense that boasts arguably the nation’s best receiving corps. The Spiders won’t be perfect, but an explosive passing offense will keep Richmond in almost every game it plays.

Additionally, Richmond’s schedule is favorable as it doesn’t face New Hampshire and it hosts JMU, Delaware and Villanova. I think Richmond makes a legitimate run at a playoff berth under second-year head coach Russ Huesman.

CAA standings

Screenshot of 2017 CAA standings from CAAsports.com. 

6. Albany

The Great Danes luck out as they avoid both JMU and Villanova this season, but do face Delaware and New Hampshire in consecutive weeks late in the season. With a manageable home slate and the return of running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks from a 2017 leg injury, Albany finds itself in a perfect position to achieve a winning season. Don’t expect Albany to win the CAA, but the Great Danes won’t be a push over.

7. Elon

I have my doubts about Elon. While I like what the Phoenix did last year (8-4, third in the CAA), I’m not so sure they’ll be able to replicate 2017’s success. Despite winning eight games, Elon allowed more points than it scored and didn’t win a single game by more than eight points. Quarterback Davis Cheek has potential heading into his sophomore campaign, but I think Elon will struggle to find the same level of success this season against an improved CAA, especially from Sept. 29 – Oct. 20.

8. Stony Brook

Quarterback Joe Carbone returns following dramatic improvement in last year’s junior campaign. After throwing five touchdowns to 20 interceptions in his first two seasons, Carbone tossed 23 touchdowns to just eight interceptions (five came against JMU) all of last year.

Defensively, senior linebacker Shayne Lawless leads the way. He’s a solid tackler in the middle of the Stony Brook defense. Defensive lineman John Haggart is another impact player on the defensive side of the ball, which is where Stony Brook excels.

I like the Seawolves, but Carbone isn’t an elite quarterback, and his career completion percentage of 54 gives me pause. Factor in a tough schedule, and I don’t see Stony Brook making the postseason in 2018.

9. Rhode Island

Rhode Island continues to steadily improve. Offensively, the Rams return star receiver Aaron Parker and have two senior quarterbacks with playing experience last season. Senior linebacker Justin Hogan anchors a defense that performed better last season after a horrendous 2016.

Head coach Jim Fleming is slowly steadying the ship. Don’t expect URI to contend for a CAA title, but the team could make a run at 5-7 wins if a few breaks go the Rams’ way.

10. Maine

Running back Josh Mack carried the Black Bears in 2017. The team, which relied on steady defense and a heavy dose of Mack, now has to adjust to Mack’s transfer to Liberty. This is a huge blow to a team already relegated to the lower tier of the CAA. Look for Maine to struggle mightily in 2018.

11. Towson 

Towson’s schedule is brutal. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Stover showed flashes last season, but he did fire 13 interceptions to his 11 touchdowns. Don’t expect Stover to be handed the starting job without competition. The team lacked offense last season, and I expect them to fall behind a rapidly improving conference. With its schedule, winning more than three games will be an accomplishment.

12. William & Mary

Sophomore quarterback Shon Mitchell could be special. Unfortunately, William & Mary went 0-8 in the CAA last season and won just two games overall. The conference didn’t get any worse, and teams without a steady quarterback presence are going to struggle in 2018. Mitchell is a year away from taking his game to the next level. Until they show otherwise, the Tribe starts the year at No. 12 in the CAA Power Rankings.

The 6 Best Plays From JMU Football’s 2017-18 Season

Screenshot from ESPN highlight video

Another week, another countdown to the start of JMU football season. We’re now just 42 days away from the 2018 season. It feels far away, but with CAA Media Day later this week, we’re getting close to fall Saturdays. Before we look forward, let’s look back at the six best plays from JMU’s 2017-18 season.

6. Bryan Schor’s scramble vs. Delaware

Schor scrambled like a man possessed in the team’s 20-10 win over Delaware. You’d think that after a certain point, Delaware’s defensive linemen would’ve stopped buying the pump fakes. They didn’t. He paused and he faked and he bobbed and he danced and he juked. It was silly. While he didn’t pick up the first down, Schor had fans on the edge of their seats with this scramble drill.

5. Harry O’Kelly’s fake punt vs. New Hampshire

Yes, the fake punt against North Dakota State came in a bigger game, but the way O’Kelly turned around his defender against New Hampshire felt unfair and honestly, a tad rude. One moment you think you’re about to demolish a punter, the next moment you’re spinning around grasping for the breeze an Australian legend just left in his wake. O’Kelly finished with more rushing yards (30) for the game than UNH’s entire team (27).

4. Trai Sharp’s game-winning touchdown vs. Richmond

Last season, JMU’s offense seemed to go, “Oh s**t, we’re almost out of time. Let’s go win this thing.” This was evident in the team’s 20-13 win over Richmond.

With both defenses battling it out all game long, the Dukes operated their two-minute offense to perfection. They marched down the field behind the powerful rushing of Trai Sharp, and secured a win over a conference rival. Sharp tallied 54 rushing yards in the 71-yard drive, including the game-winning run from seven yards out.

3. Rashad Robinson’s interception vs. East Carolina

This interception in the end zone serves as an optical illusion. Robinson had his back to the receiver, but somehow managed to wrestle the ball away in what appeared to be a sure touchdown. Robinson came out of the scrum with the ball and a monster turnover in JMU’s opening week victory over the 2017-18 season.

2. Riley Stapleton’s game-tying touchdown reception vs. Weber State

This difficult catch, and perfect throw, helped keep JMU’s season alive. On third-and-9 late in the fourth quarter of the FCS quarterfinals, Schor fired a bomb down the left side, Stapleton reached above the outstretched arm of the Weber State defender and hauled in a touchdown to help the Dukes tie the game up. His reaction upon scoring the touchdown screams, “I’m a beast.”

Trai Sharp converted the two-point conversion on the next play to even things at 28.

1. Ethan Ratke’s game-winning field goal vs. Weber State

He entered the season as the backup kicker. He ended the FCS quarterfinals as the team’s hero. Ratke, who would look undersized on JMU’s golf team, stepped up in a pressure-packed situation and acted like he was practicing an extra point on an empty practice field in August. He was calm, cool and collected when nailing the 46-yard boot.

The play that ended JMU’s most thrilling game of the 2017-18 season takes the top spot in my list of top plays of the year.

7 Reasons Everett Withers Deserves Credit for JMU’s Success

Image credit: JMU Sports YouTube account.

There’s no doubt Mike Houston is the right person to lead JMU football. With that being said, former head coach Everett Withers deserves credit for the success of the JMU program the past few years.

While Withers has been leading a less than stellar Texas State team, his former recruits have been showing out in Harrisonburg. The Dukes are 28-2 under Houston with two CAA titles and one national championship. I don’t believe they would’ve reached this level of success under Withers, but that doesn’t mean the former Ohio State defensive coordinator doesn’t deserve at least a little credit.

It’s easy to take jabs at Texas State’s record, but instead, let’s overview seven ways JMU still feels Everett Withers’ impact.

7. Reengaged fan base

After a few mediocre years, especially offensively, under Mickey Matthews, the JMU fanbase was ready for a change. In 2013, Matthews’ last season, the Dukes dropped their final three games to miss the playoffs and finish 6-6 overall. This came one season after dropping their final two games to go 7-4 and fall short of the postseason. Enter Everett.

Withers came to JMU and immediately added a jolt to the program. After starting 2-3 in 2014, the Dukes reeled off seven consecutive victories behind Vad Lee before succumbing to Liberty 26-21 in a home playoff game they could’ve (and maybe should’ve) won. The next season brought ESPN’s “College GameDay,” nine more wins and a playoff bye before falling to Colgate in another game the Dukes had opportunities to win.

6. Added swagger 

Withers coached, and recruited, some confident dudes. When I think of the Withers era I think of the freshman version of Jimmy Moreland and guys like Vad Lee, Domo Taylor, Rashad Robinson, Trai Sharp and Bryan Schor. Withers added talented players with tons of confidence. Not only did Withers bring out the best in returning players, but he brought the best out of many returning players, especially those on the offensive side of the ball.

Add in the 45,879,617 new uniforms the team added under Withers, and the team’s swagger took a noticeable jump forward. While I’m sure fans would’ve traded playoff wins for new helmets, those additions do, and did, play a role in recruiting.

Not sold on the moxie of these players? Watch these videos.

 

5. Offensive explosion

In 2013, an average JMU offense trotted onto the field every week. In 2014, a Vad-Lee led offense improved each week, and became a formidable force. In 2015, the offense became elite. The numbers tell the story.

2013 (Matthews)

Touchdowns – 44

Total yards – 4,884

Points per game – 28.25

2014 (Withers)

Touchdowns – 60

Total yards – 6,300

Points per game – 35.69

2015 (Withers)

Touchdowns – 71

Total yards – 6,345

Points per game – 44.25

JMU’s 2014-15 teams were the original creators of #PartyInTheEndZone.

4. Improved recruiting

I’ll start this by saying Mickey Matthews brought incredible talent to JMU. This isn’t meant as a comparison of those two coaches, but rather an explanation as to why Withers deserves credit for JMU’s current success.

He brought in guys like Rashad Robinson, Bryan Schor, Vad Lee and Riley Stapleton just to name a few. He wasn’t a perfect coach, but his abilities as a recruiter put him in an elite field among FCS coaches. Some of these recruits are All-American caliber players heading into the 2018 season.

3. “College GameDay”

Lee and Withers both contributed tremendously to ESPN’s “College GameDay’s” 2015 appearance in the ‘Burg. Withers had ties to Urban Meyer’s coaching tree and helped put the Dukes at 7-0 heading into the highly-anticipated showdown with Richmond. GameDay helped put the team on the national radar, and Withers is a big reason why the show came to Harrisonburg.

2. Vad Lee

Thanks to ties to Lee during the quarterback’s high school recruiting process, Withers drew the star quarterback to Harrisonburg after the gunslinger grew tired of running the triple option at Georgia Tech. This ignited JMU’s fast rise to national prominence.

Imagine if Lee doesn’t get injured in 2015. Yes, the defense was subpar. Yes, the team probably still would’ve fallen to Richmond. On the flip side, with Lee, JMU has a good chance of beating William & Mary and entering the postseason with a single loss and a bye. Colgate played a great playoff game, especially in the opening possessions, but I don’t think there’s an FCS expert that thinks the Dukes would’ve lost to Colgate with Lee at quarterback.

The next week, JMU would’ve hosted an unseeded Sam Houston State team in what would’ve likely been a shootout. Most don’t remember it, but the weather in Harrisonburg for that potential December game was 60 degrees and sunny. Perfect for a high-octane offense like JMU’s to excel. The ideal weather also entices more fans to attend the game.

While the Bearkats had plenty of firepower in their own right, I like JMU winning a home shootout with Lee running the show. The Dukes would’ve then traveled to top-seeded Jacksonville State and faced North Dakota State in the title game, assuming a win over the Gamecocks. JMU wouldn’t have won the whole thing with those two programs in its way, but an FCS Semifinal appearance looks good on the resume and puts the Dukes a defense away from seriously contending for a title.

Obviously, Lee did get hurt and the scenario played out differently, but it’s unfair to say Withers failed expectations in 2015 when he lost arguably the nation’s best player.

If you don’t remember the extent of Vad’s greatness, watch this.

Lee helped put JMU back on the national radar, and Withers brought Lee to the Friendly City.

1. Setting the stage

JMU’s defense struggled under Withers. The team allowed over 400 yards per game and roughly 28 points per game in both seasons with the defensive-minded coach at the helm. There’s no doubt the team needed to improve defensively in coming seasons to compete for national titles.

Mike Houston fixed the defense. He changed the locker room culture. He kept an explosive spread offense. He won a national title. There’s no debating Houston’s value to the JMU program. Withers also deserves credit. He provided a jolt of energy to a frustrated fanbase, brought Vad to Harrisonburg and lead the team to 18 wins in two seasons.

Houston is a perfect fit for JMU, but as days, weeks and months turn into years, let’s not forget the impact Withers had on JMU’s program. He set the stage for Houston to take the wheel and quickly turn the Dukes into a national power.

While many saw flaws in JMU’s 2015 team, the Dukes entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed. Withers built a team ready to be molded into a title contender. Houston did that and more.

Abrasive or not, Withers helped JMU’s program tremendously and deserves at least a little credit for the current state of the program.

 

Eight Best Twitter Follows for JMU Football Fans

I wrote a piece with a similar concept early last season, but I’m adding a ranking and hoping to make this an annual tradition. This week’s story is a little bit shorter than usual, as massive explanations for why to follow each account seem unnecessary. The concept is simple: if you’re a JMU football fan, you should follow these accounts.

Let’s get to it.

I’m excluding @JMUFootball and @JMUCoachHouston because they seem too obvious. 

No. 8: TJ Eck – With David DeGuzman leaving WHSV (sad face), Eck steps into the role of sports director. Expect Eck to move up this list next season. I’m slotting him into the No. 8 spot since he’s yet to cover a JMU football season, but I expect great coverage from the Harrisonburg newcomer.

No. 7: Not Mike Houston – He’s funny, he retweets tons of JMU football-related content, and he’ll improve your overall JMU football experience. I wanted to rank him higher, but I’d like to see “Coach” get over 1,000 followers before putting him in the top six.

No. 6: Michael Evangelista – Rarely is a die-hard fan a must-follow, but Michael gets the nod. He’s good for his fair share of trash talk, but he’s knowledgeable when roasting Virginia Tech fans. That’s admirable. Engaging with fans and always down for a conversation about the Dukes, Michael is definitely worth following if you love JMU football.

Also, his pinned tweet is adorable.

No. 5: The Breeze Sports – Full disclosure, I like The Breeze. Regardless of my bias, Blake Pace and Catie Harper are tremendous sports editors, and Kevin Haswell is overseeing all social media this year. Oh, and Matt Weyrich oversees everything. What does this mean for fans? It means you’re going to get a ton of great information all season long.

Articles, videos and tweets. The Breeze’s football coverage improves annually, and I expect more fantastic content next season.

No. 4: Dave ThomasLeaving Dave Thomas off last year’s list is a travesty. I’d argue that he conducts the best interviews of any JMU football media member. He’s engaging, conversational and possesses a special voice. He knows how to get the most out of interviews with players, and he’s incredibly experienced in the sports field.

No. 3: Curt Dudley Curt Dudley once got a paper cut in the MadiZONE booth and started bleeding. I saw purple blood and started to question him. He quickly replied, “That’s weird, it’s normally gold.”

This didn’t actually happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had.

As I said in last year’s article he “eats, sleeps and breathes JMU.” After thinking about this statement and realizing the amount of time he spends working for MadiZONE and tweets about JMU sports, I’m not quite sure he sleeps. Follow Curt if you’re a JMU football fan, or if you appreciate someone dedicated to perfecting his craft and helping others.

No. 2: JMU Sports Blog – Run by two JMU alumni, this account is my personal favorite. Rob Abbott and Todd Davis are funny, intelligent and reasonable fans. Their podcast has featured incredible guests. They’ve had Curt Dudley, Christy Morgan, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe and me on the podcast. Can you think of four more influential JMU sports figures??

In all seriousness, Rob and Todd are good at what they do. They understand that they’re fans, but they get the bigger picture. They feel the emotions of big wins and tough losses and then put those experiences into words. Speaking of emotions, I get emotional thinking about their account because it genuinely helped shape my JMU experience. They helped foster my relationship with JMU athletics, and I’m incredibly appreciative of what they do. They’re a good guys and a great Twitter follow.

No. 1: Greg Madia – Speaking of good people …

Greg is a special talent. Working for The Breeze was an amazing experience, but you receive a certain level of disrespect from media members and some within the athletic department. It’s understandable. We’re students and we make a lot of mistakes. We also create a lot of phenomenal content. Quick to offer advice and listen attentively, Greg always helps members of The Breeze out. He genuinely cares about helping others and being a nice guy.

His personality is excellent, and his writing might be even better. He covers every aspect of the program. From recruiting to longer features to detailed game recaps, Greg covers the program in its entirety.

If you weren’t on the list, please send me angry tweets.

 

JMU Should Have a Mandatory Sexual Assault Prevention/Awareness Day

Our lives are defined by moments.

That was the defining idea in “The Power of Moments,” a book by Chip and Dan Heath that I read earlier this summer. I highly recommend reading all of the book, but I’ll keep my summary of the story short and sweet.

Power-of-Moments-Hero-1.jpg

Basically, the Heath brothers say life is broken down into two categories. Peaks and pits. Peaks are positive moments. Learning to ride a bike, your first kiss and your wedding day would all be examples of peaks. A death of a loved one, getting fired from a job and being diagnosed with a severe illness would all be pits.

Peaks

Learning to ride a bike

First kiss

Wedding day

Pits

Death of a loved one

Getting fired

Diagnosed with illness

All of these moments have a key element in common: they increase your heart rate by putting something on the line. Remember back to the anxiety and excitement of your first kiss. We tend to cherish peak moments and despise pits because we’re engaged in those moments. Your stomach drops when you hear that your loved one has passed. Your grin widens when you realize the bike is going to stay upright. You’re finally doing it, you’re riding a bike. There’s anxiety in the fact that you could fall of and get hurt. The stakes are raised.

The central idea of these moments is that when our lives come to a close, we only really remember peaks and pits. Nobody remembers the mediocre turkey sandwiches they had for lunch at a summer job or times stubbing their toe. These little moments are memorable in the short-term, but it’s the peaks and pits that truly define our lives.

I love this explanation and take on life. The book continues to explain that people, and businesses, should strive to create peaks. This seems simple enough. The more peaks in your life, the more memorable happy moments you’ve achieved. If you can provide peaks to loved ones and co-workers, chances are your relationships and businesses will thrive. Imagine having the thrill of learning to ride a bike for the first time every single day. That’d be an amazing life.

My not-as-short-as-I-had-hoped summary leads me to this statement: JMU should create a mandatory, campus-wide sexual assault awareness and prevention day. Here’s how it works.

Date: The first Wednesday of every semester.

Explanation: Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes will get their first syllabus day in. The same goes for Tuesday-Thursday classes. Students (likely) won’t have much of any homework to worry about. This also ensures each semester starts by joining everyone together to stand up against sexual assault.

Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. with an hour lunch break

Explanation: 10 a.m. is enough time for students to sleep in. The 4 p.m. ending leaves plenty of time to still go out Wednesday night. The hour lunch gives a nice break during what will be a deeply emotional day. It’s a mental break.

Agenda: 

10-10:30 a.m.: Opening remarks from President Alger, others that helped put the event together.

10:30-11:15 a.m.: Sexual assault survivors/friends of survivors share their stories.

11:15 a.m. – noon: How can we help? This includes talk on how bystanders can help. The discussion includes prevention as well as an explanation on how to support survivors. Consent should be discussed.

Noon-12:15 p.m.: Break into groups in different areas of campus.

12:15-1 p.m.: How should these incidents be reported? Discuss the reporting process,

1-2 p.m.: Lunch at your respective location.

2-3:30 p.m.: Group discussion. Mandatory topics include consent and resources for survivors. The small group setting allows for people to ask questions comfortably.

3:30-4 p.m.: Group debrief. Talk to your group leader about what did and didn’t go well during the day to improve next semester’s event. All students should also be given avenues to discuss sexual assault further over the course of the semester if they’re interested.

Explanation:

By creating an entire school-sponsored day around sexual assault prevention/awareness you’re sending a very clear message to students that James Madison University does not tolerate sexual assault. The school literally cancels a day of classes to address the issue. All students must attend like an assessment day. It’s doable. It’s a logistical challenge, but it’s worth the challenge.

The chance for sexual assault survivors to speak out both in small groups and on a larger scale is huge. Survivors never lose their voice, but going through a traumatic experience and having to remember that moment repeatedly during an appeals process or even counseling can temporarily dampen the voices of some. This event would give them a platform not just to be heard, but to have us truly listen. In some cases, they’d literally be a given a platform (stage) to stand upon and share their stories. They’d get a chance to have 20,000 kids standing around them saying, “We’re with you.”

In essence, a pit is turned into a peak.

Speaking in front of 20,000 people raises the stakes. There’s nervousness, there’s anxiety, but those emotions allow for the speaker to create a peak by sharing their story and getting supported by every single Duke.

By cancelling class, the stakes are raised for everyone there. This signals that the day matters. It’s not an event on the weekend or an evening discussion at UREC, this is every teacher and student and employee coming together to build a healthier community. When you raise the stakes and show that you care, you’re setting the stage to create a peak.

Imagine a student graduates JMU and they’re asked to share their favorite memory from college. They won’t remember every late night library session or all the Starbucks runs. They’ll remember peaks. JMU football winning the national championship. A memorable snowball fight on the Quad.

Why shouldn’t JMU’s twice annual sexual assault awareness and prevention day also fall on that list?

Life is defined by moments. If I’m JMU, I’d want to create peaks for my students. Right now, many Dukes are in the middle of pits.

JMU, be the change. Create a peak.

Sign my petition to support this idea. 

 

 

The 9 Best Things About Attending a Game at Bridgeforth Stadium

Image: Screenshot from visitjmu.com. 

Today marks nine weeks until JMU football starts its 2018 season. As the season approaches, I continue with my weekly countdown until the year kicks off on Sept. 1 with an exciting matchup against North Carolina State. This week’s countdown article shares the nine “best things” about Bridgeforth Stadium.

Disclaimer: This is subjective. If you hate my list, please send me (@BennettConlin) a strongly-worded tweet and we can discuss why you’re actually very, very wrong.

Let’s get to it.

9. Food Race Promotion

Yes, the glorious food race. On Saturdays we all root for lobster, and the poor crustacean almost always falls short. He was able to pull out a victory last year against Maine in a day that will go down as arguably the most important in-game JMU football promotion involving food in the history of the 2017 season.

For those that don’t know what the food races are, a bunch of people dressed up in culinary costumes race across the field. The winning food is then discounted in the fourth quarter. JMU doesn’t normally sell lobster at games (That’s UVA, which sells lobster, caviar and a collection of Vineyard Vines button-down shirts to all seven fans in attendance), so the race is normally rigged against lobster.  If you haven’t seen the race, go to a game and witness the ninth-best part of a JMU football game.

8. The Press Box

This isn’t relatable at all, and I’m spoiled. I feel the need to bring it up regardless. Bridgeforth Stadium’s press box is among the best I’ve ever been to in my time at The Breeze. In a few other press boxes, I feared for my life. The wooden structure at Delaware appeared to be constructed by children in the 1920s. Walking into the press box requires you to get on all fours, get blasted by a shrink ray and then crawl into the wobbly building. The bathroom is a supply closet. How much did I dislike the press box? I would’ve rather stared into Danny Rocco’s horrifyingly bright blue eyes for two hours than go back.

OK, OK, I’m overreacting. Delaware’s press box isn’t that bad, and anyone complaining about covering a national championship-winning football team as a 20-year-old needs a reality check. The point of my overblown rant is that JMU’s press box is top notch. I’d argue it’s better, albeit smaller, than North Carolina’s. Every part of the press box is amazing. From the MadiZONE broadcast booth, to press row to the post-game press conference area, the press box is incredible. It’s an FBS caliber location. As a journalist covering CAA football, I felt incredibly lucky to be at Bridgeforth Stadium so frequently.

7. Duke Dog

Both the real dog and the mascot help add to the special atmosphere. The fun-loving mascot that got robbed out of winning the 2004 Capital One Mascot Challenge makes every JMU moment better. Grab a selfie with him before the end of your college career.

6. JMU Marching Royal Dukes

The Dukes boast a ridiculously talented band to add to the excitement of a fall Saturday in Bridgeforth. Nothing makes a game day better than an MRD rendition of “Start Wearing Purple.”

5. So. Many. Wins. 

Under Mike Houston, JMU has yet to lose at home. Seventeen games. Seventeen wins. 17-0. Fun fact: That’s more home wins than Texas State has total wins (14) in the last four seasons.

4. “First Down, J-M-U Duuuuukes!”

When the Dukes earn a first down, which they frequently do, the sweet, sweet sounds of Curt Dudley echo across the stadium. “First down, J-M-U,” he says as JMU nation responds with a massive “Duuuuuukes!” It’s a great feeling, and one of the little parts of a JMU game that get taken for granted. My advice? Never take Curt Dudley’s voice for granted.

3. Intimate Stadium Atmosphere

Bridgeforth seats about 25,000 people, but sellout crowds feel like more. The student section on a crowded Saturday creates an atmosphere that few FCS venues can replicate. Now, the crowd when the Dukes play Morehead State isn’t quite as intimate, but when big games roll around, Bridgeforth is among the best in the FCS.

2. Staying Past Halftime

Yes, people do this. The wonders of staying past halftime include seeing the end of the game, knowing who wins and not quitting on your fellow students. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol still exists outside the stadium after the conclusion of games. Staying past halftime to see JMU trash teams by 50 is great. Oh, and sometimes this happens.

The second half of JMU football games is worth the wait. Stick around for the whole game.

1. Streamers

This is an easy choice — unless you work for the NCAA. There’s no better tradition than throwing streamers at games. Whether you’re into football or not, there’s something satisfying about throwing a streamer across the sky. It’s fun for people of all ages, and it means the Dukes just did something well. Throwing streamers is peak JMU. It’s an incredible experience and very few people across the country are aware of it. Much like the school itself, streamers are a hidden gem.