RICHMOND, Va. – Justin Thorpe's encore season will also be a homecoming.
For five years, Justin Thorpe was a James Madison University football player. At times, he was a fan and coach favorite for the way he played on the field. But at other times, he drew the ire of those same crowds, making questionable decisions on and off the field.
When the NCAA granted Thorpe a rare sixth year of eligibility, he decided to use that final season as a fresh start, transferring to Division II Virginia State, playing football back in his home town.
While at Madison, Thorpe saw high highs, and low lows, with stretches where he won 13 straight games he started at quarterback, but also a stretch where the Dukes struggled over his five game suspension for a “violation of team rules”.
“My career at James Madison was rocky at times, as well as it was good at times,” said Thorpe. “I had game-winners and game-losers.”
His new head coach, Latrell Scott, didn't have to do much to recruit him—or at least he didn't have to do much more recruiting. Scott recruited Thorpe back when the quarterback was in high school and Scott was the head coach at Richmond. Thorpe chose JMU. Scott joined the Madison coaching staff last season, but after he too earned a fresh start with the head coaching gig at Virginia State, Thorpe was ready to follow.
“He can come back home and play in front of his friends and family and the same people he entertained on Friday nights, and in a great environment,” said Scott on Thorpe. “The city of Richmond is thrilled to have him back.”
Thorpe went 12-4 as a starter (against FCS foes) over his last two years at JMU, but despite his record, declining offensive production led Mickey Matthews to replace Thorpe in the lineup with true freshman Michael Birdsong. Birdsong eventually was named the new starter late last season.
Thorpe and Matthews saw their relationship deteriorate from there, leading the sixth-year senior to seek another home for his last ride.
“I enjoyed my five years at JMU. That's what I want people to know. I spent my whole career at James Madison,” Thorpe explained. “I was just blessed with a sixth year and a chance to do something different.”
“He gave JMU five years of his life. He got a degree out of it, and now he's getting the opportunity to finish his career on a high note,” said Scott.
Thorpe was one of the top talents in FCS football, and expectations are high for him and the Trojans heading in to this season. But even with all the pressures that come along with being a high profile transfer, Thorpe says he's not exactly feeling the pressure. He's just looking forward to getting back on the field.
“I feel like coming here, I have a lot of weapons around me and guys that can take the pressure off of me. All I have to do is go out here and operate, just play football,” said Thorpe. “Coming here I get to start off new. It's great expectations and I'm just hoping I can live up to it.”
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