“Focus. Focus, finish and play hard.”
That's what James Madison junior linebacker Stephon Robertson said the Dukes need to do to be ready for St. Francis, Saturday September 1.
Oh yeah, and he mentioned one more thing.
“Play hard, and have fun.”
Fun. Something often lost in the high profile world of Division 1 athletics, especially beneath the ever-present weight of winning and winning big. At JMU, high expectations are something that comes along with wearing the purple jersey and gold helmet.
“Expectations are to be dadgum good,” said head coach Mickey Matthews. “Our goal every year that I'm the coach here is to win the national championship.”
“We're playing football at James Madison. We're always expected to do something this year,” said quarterback Justin Thorpe. “September 1st will dictate what happens for us the rest of the season. If we come out playing hard then? The sky is the limit.”
How good can this team be? To echo Matthews, pretty dadgum good. Madison is returning 17 starters from a team that almost won the CAA with their backup freshman quarterback starting five league games. Two of their three losses in that stretch, came by a combined total of four points.
Defensively, the Dukes finished 2011 as the top-ranked team in the CAA. Robertson says in 2012, they want to be even better.
“We mostly score ourselves on our last year's performance,” said Robertson. “This year, we have to be everything else, get more turnovers. That's our main focus.
Thorpe, a 5th year senior, returns as the starter under center. He'll quarterback an offense that's 10-1 in FCS play over his last 11 starts. Their lone loss came in the Fargodome at the hands of the eventual national champions, North Dakota State.
“I want to go all the way, just like all of my guys out here,” said Thorpe. “We want to go all the way and we know we have the team that can do it.”
“We expect to be playing in November, playing in December, we almost demand we play in December. And we're looking forward to it,” said Matthews.
But will Madison be able to rise to the occasion, have a little fun? Only time will tell.