JMU's Yancey Adjusting to Position Change

By: Damon Dillman Email
By: Damon Dillman Email

Griff Yancey hasn't played defense in a game since his senior year at Hermitage High School.

"I played some safety, some corner," says Yancey, now a redshirt junior at James Madison. "But it's been a while."

That is expected to change September 12, when JMU opens its 2009 season at Maryland.

The JMU coaching staff moved Yancey from running back to defensive back late in spring drills, and he has spent the first two days of preseason practice running with the first team at free safety.

Head coach Mickey Matthews says he's been telling his assistants for years that Yancey was being wasted on offense.

"Everything about his versatility has always spelled safety, at least to me," says Matthews.

"At first I wasn't really sure," says Yancey, who was third on the team in rushing yards and second in both receptions and touchdowns a year ago.

"I was kind of shocked. I didn't really know what to think of it," he adds. "But it's all for a good cause, I think."

That "good cause" is to add depth to a defensive backfield that lost five starters from last year - including All-American Marcus Haywood, whom Yancey is slotted to replace.

Yancey switched to defense just days before JMU's annual spring game. But Matthews says Yancey's presence was almost immediately known.

"We had a lot less busts, in terms of coverage. We were lined up correctly," says Matthews. "He's just a really smart player, a tough guy."

"It's not as hard as I thought it was going to be," Yancey says of the transition. "I've just got to stay focused, stay in the book. Know what I've got to do."

Even without Yancey, the Dukes are well-stocked at running back, with junior Jamal Sullivan and sophomores Scott Noble and Corwin Acker returning.

But Matthews still won't completely rule out the possibility of Yancey seeing double duty.

"We could play him in third down situations on offense still, because he's such a good all-around back," suggests Matthews. "But I'm sure as time goes along he'll become so important to us defensively that we can't move him back."

Yancey smiles broadly when asked if he'll miss his old role on offense.

"Maybe a little bit," he says. "I love to score. Maybe I can score on this side of the ball."


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