Cohesion & Leadership Has Fueled James Madison's Title Run

Ron'Dell Carter Has Arrived

Autumn Saturdays mean thousands pouring into a stadium on campuses nationwide, and millions more tuning in at home. Countless fans are invested in what they see play out from Labor Day weekend and beyond – they hope beyond means December. 

What these people don’t see are the summer days preceding. 

Watch JMU vs Rhode Island LIVE on FloFootball

When campus is empty and most of the student population is enjoying the sunshine, that’s when the work necessary to build an autumn winner comes. 

“The bonds started during the summer when we were down here, and it’s just us, just the team,” said James Madison running back Percy Agyei-Obese. “Every day we’re out there working hard together, grinding together.” 

Summer workouts are a rite of passage for every program. The grind in the heat, those initial practices that set the tone, aren’t things exclusive to a championship-winning squad like James Madison. 

But for the second-ranked Dukes, who approach the FCS Playoffs with an outright Colonial Athletic Association championship, a 10-game winning streak, and a perfect record against FCS competition, the summer grind proved to them they could do something special come fall. 

A central element to those preseason workouts at James Madison was the adjustment to a new coaching staff. Mike Houston, who led the Dukes to a national championship in the 2016 season and return to the title game in 2017, left for East Carolina. 

Remaining was a corps of upperclassmen, both returning stars and experienced albeit new Dukes poised to breakout, like Agyei-Obese. A shift in approach with a bevy of upperclassmen who knew how to win could have caused upheaval. 

That made meshing both team and staff in the summer vitally important. 

First-year Dukes coach Curt Cignetti said in his press conference following the CAA championship-sealing win over Richmond he, “kinda creeped into [the job],” because he “respect what they’d done in the past.” 

At the same time, no one in Harrisonburg was ready to rest on their laurels. All the returning talent remembered the misfires of the past, too. 

“After freshman year [2017], getting all the way to the national championship [game] and not winning, a lot of people definitely haven’t forgotten,” Agyei-Obese said. 

Nor had anyone returning forgotten a disappointing exit in the 2018 playoffs when the Dukes lost to Colgate; or the runner-up finish in the CAA that preceded it. 

James Madison won the three conference championships before the 2018 campaign. Returning to that mountaintop in 2019 was one of the many lofty goals eyed during those summer practices. 

For the redshirt seniors like linebacker Dimitri Holloway and Riley Stapleton, winning a fourth conference championship in five years was a byproduct of their leadership. 

“We’ve got a lot of great senior leaders on this team,” Cignetti said, adding with a laugh: “They overcame their coach this year.” 

Even in jest, that’s selling it short. Agyei-Obese said a key for the Dukes has been the relationships the team has formed with the new coaches, and how it’s translated onto the field. 

“With this new coaching staff, I’ve learned more about the game,” he said. 

And Agyei-Obese has put those lessons into action with 13 rushing touchdowns, and a continuously elevated personal bar. 

He scored a pair of touchdowns for the first time in his career Week 3 against Morgan State; the next week at Chattanooga, he rushed for a personal-best 114 yards. 

Agyei-Obese since obliterated both records; like the Dukes as a whole, his individual play has only gotten better the deeper into autumn James Madison plays. 

On a roster loaded with returning talent, running back was an outlier with the top three ball-carriers of 2018 gone. Not only has the four-man rotation with Jawon Hamilton, Solomon Vanhorse and either Latrele Palmer of Eric Kirlew filled the void left behind, they’ve raised the standard. 

Agyei-Obese has been the most productive of the bunch with 779 yards. In an offense that required him to carry more, he might have broken the 1,000-yard mark – but he also wouldn’t be as fresh for a postseason push. 

And, after all, that’s the intention behind the summertime grind.  

Dominant JMU Pitches First Playoff Shutout, Rolls Past Northern Iowa

Inside The Rise Of Curt Cignetti

James Madison is one win away from punching its ticket to Frisco, Texas, thanks to an absolutely dominant defensive effort that led to a 17-0 victory over sixth-ranked Northern Iowa in the FCS quarterfinal round on Friday night.

Familiar Foes: CAA, MVFC Meet For 22nd Time When JMU Hosts UNI

Friday night's national quarterfinal showdown between James Madison and Northern Iowa marks the 22nd all-time meeting of Colonial Athletic Association and Missouri Valley Football Conference programs in the FCS Playoffs. 

Dominant Defenses Collide At Bridgeforth When JMU Hosts UNI

James Madison and Northern Iowa meet in Friday’s national quarterfinals with a similar look – and we’re not just referring to purple-gold-and-white uniforms. 

JMU's Ron'Dell Carter Named Finalist For Buck Buchanan Award

Ron'Dell Carter Has Arrived

James Madison senior defensive end Ron’Dell Carter has been voted one of three finalists for the 2019 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding defensive player at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.

JMU Is Hitting On All Cylinders Heading Into Quarterfinal Round

Rashad Robinson's Ready For His Close-Up

No. 2 overall seed James Madison kicked off its 2019 FCS Playoffs in a fashion indicative of how the Dukes have played all season. 

JMU Crushes Monmouth As Myriad Program Records Fall

CAA champion James Madison piled up a program playoff record 623 yards of total offense and hammered 14th-ranked Monmouth 66-21 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.

Dukes By The Numbers: JMU Has Been Even More Dominant Than You Realize

HIGHLIGHTS: JMU vs William & Mary

Statistically speaking, James Madison has been one of the best teams in college football throughout the 2019 season. 

JMU's Offensive Line Is Paving The Way For A Title Run

Sessions playing Call of Duty can get pretty heated among the James Madison offensive line. 

UAlbany's Defense Is Flexing Its Muscle At The Perfect Time

In a season with running back Karl Mofor leading the Colonial Athletic Association in rushing, quarterback Jeff Undercuffler leading the nation in passing touchdowns, and wide receivers Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves making one spectacular grab after another, the UAlbany offense garnering attention stands to reason. 

The Future Of UAlbany Football Is Being Constructed As We Speak

Although only 180 miles separate their campuses, it took more than a century for the game born at Rutgers University in 1869 to make its way to UAlbany.