Baltimore’s D.J. Bryant, a redshirt junior defensive lineman for James Madison, blew past an offensive lineman during practice Thursday afternoon as a light rain fell in Harrisonburg, Va.
“Thataway, D.J.” said one of the Dukes during a drill that pitted one defensive lineman against an offensive counterpart. Bryant, who played football and basketball at Randallstown High, was part of a JMU defense that stymied host Virginia Tech on Saturday as the Dukes posted a stunning upset, 21-16, over a team that was ranked nationally.
It was just the second time a Division I-AA program beat a Division I-A team that was nationally ranked. The first was when Appalachian State shocked host Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007.
“I just think we wanted it a lot more,” Bryant told me, as he stood in the east end zone before heading back to the field for more drills. “It was all-out effort. We were hungry. We were running to the ball, and it was a collective effort. We may be a small school, but it is not a small league (in the Colonial Athletic Association). Every week is a dogfight. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we will back down for anybody.”
Bryant, who wears No. 13, said his phone broke down over the weekend and when he finally got it fixed after the game at Tech he had 33 text messages and eight voice mails of congratulations for the win over the Hokies. A returning starter at defensive end, he was a second-team preseason All-CAA pick by Phil Steele. He had one solo tackle and one unassisted tackle in the win at Virginia Tech.
JMU junior redshirt tailback Scott Noble (Franklin High), who played on a Pop Warner youth football team with Bryant in Randallstown, ran three times for 17 yards against the Hokies. Lee Reynolds (Poly), a redshirt sophomore tailback, returned one punt for 29 yards. Other Maryland residents on the JMU roster include wide receiver Renard Robinson (Mount St. Joseph), wide receiver Ryan Dixon (Linganore High), wideout Devin Goode (Riverdale Baptist), safety Jakarie Jackson (Tuscarora), cornerback Marquis Woodyard (Thomas Johnson), defensive tackle Anthony McDaniel (Wise) and linebacker Chase Williams (Northwest).
JMU is ranked No. 3 this week in the Division I-AA national poll. Last year two CAA teams beat teams from the ACC: Richmond won at Duke and William & Mary won at Virginia. And last season JMU nearly beat host Maryland, before falling in overtime.
JMU coach Mickey Matthews told a Charlottesville-based sports radio show this week that “at least” five schools that had been in discussion about playing the Dukes in the future called and said they were no longer interested. “Nothing had been signed,” Matthews noted. But the message was clear: Bigger schools want no part of the Dukes. JMU is off this week and plays again Sept. 25 at home against Liberty.
Bryant is on track to graduate in the spring and plans to attend graduate school at JMU in the fall of 2011 in order to take part in his fourth and final year of eligibility for the Dukes. “Since I have played football since age 7, I want a shot at the NFL,” said Bryant, before returning to the field to take part in punt coverage drills as a drizzle fell in Harrisonburg on a team that has been singing in the rain since the big win on Saturday.
David Driver was sports editor of the Laurel Leader from 1996 to 2003. While living with his family in Hungary for three years, he covered basketball and world championship events in boxing and wrestling. He spent a year as a writer/editor at George Mason University before returning to cover sports at the Leader in 2007. Driver played baseball in high school and college (Division III, of course), where as an infielder his lack of speed combined with an absence of power drove scouts away by the dozens. He decided not to try out for his high school basketball team in Virginia, which saved him the embarrassment of having future NBA star and prep rival Ralph Sampson dunk the ball in his face - a fate that some of his buddies did not escape. He has covered pro baseball and basketball as a free-lance writer and has lived in Prince George's County for 15 years.