Yancey, Sullivan Both Practice at Running Back

By: Damon Dillman Email
By: Damon Dillman Email

It was overshadowed by head coach Mickey Matthews' announcement that Justin Thorpe would start at quarterback Saturday.

But alternating reps next to Thorpe in the James Madison backfield Tuesday were running backs Jamal Sullivan and Griff Yancey.

The presence of both juniors was noteworthy for different reasons.

Yancey had been JMU's starting free safety for three of its first four games this season, before being told he was returning to offense Monday. And even Matthews seemed a bit surprised to see Sullivan in action, since he is still recovering from a bruised knee suffered against Liberty.

"We're kind of scratching where it itches right now with our football program, because we have just suffered so many early-season injuries," explains Matthews.

The latest came early in JMU's loss at Hofstra this past Saturday, when receiver Marcus Turner was slowed by a hip problem. Turner did not practice Tuesday.

JMU is already without sophomore receiver Kerby Long, who broke a hand last month, and senior Bosco Williams is still recovering from foot surgery.

"We've lost a lot of offensive firepower," says Matthews. "So we needed to work Corwin (Acker) at some wide receiver, which he's really a very versatile guy, to get some speed in our receiver corps."

Without Acker and potentially Sullivan, who didn't play at Hofstra, Matthews says JMU was down to one healthy running back, sophomore Scott Noble.

That prompted the coaching staff to move Yancey, who spent his first two seasons at running back before moving to free safety this past spring, back to offense.

"They said they had a lot of injuries on offense, and needed some roles to fill. I played offense, so I'm coming back over," he said Tuesday at practice. "Like I've told coach before, I'd do anything to help the team out."

"Griff's such a great kid. I'm sure he'd move to defensive end if we asked him to," says Matthews. "That's the kind of youngster he is."

Yancey entered the season as JMU's leading returning rusher. He ran for 665 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2008. Last year he had 518 yards and ten rushing scores, and added another 226 receiving yards and three touchdown catches.

"It feels real good to have the ball back in my hands. I mean defense, I was just getting the hang of it, but as they say, things happen," says Yancey. "I'm excited. I just want to score some touchdowns."

Matthews said Sullivan's status for Saturday's game against No. 1 Richmond was still unclear. Earlier in the week he said it was unlikely Sullivan would be healthy enough to play, but that was before the junior returned to practice Tuesday.

Yancey started three of JMU's first four games at free safety, logging seven tackles and an interception. He missed the Dukes' win over VMI with an injured clavicle.

Fifth-year senior Brandon Randolph got his first career start in place of Yancey against VMI. But on Tuesday, Matthews said it would be true freshman Jakarie Jackson would fill the void at free safety against the Spiders.

"It was obvious during August camp he was the most talented of all our young secondary players, and he's just really picked up a lot of things," says Matthews. "He's a really good tackler, and he's very smart. So Jakarie's very deserving in getting his first start."

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