Work Samples

JMU national title drive added by Power 5 transfers

December 12, 2017

By David Driver
For the Raleigh News & Observer
Used with permission

By David Driver


Ron’Dell Carter said he was determined to give the new coaching staff at Rutgers a chance.

Recruited by a former regime, Carter played in five games for Rutgers in 2016 for first-year head coach Chris Ash and was confident he would have seen significant action this season for the Scarlet Knights.

But when he decided to transfer – to assure that he would see the field more often – he had a key ally down a level at James Madison : his younger brother, Robert Carter Jr. Robert was a linebacker for the Dukes who played in 15 games during JMU’s 2016 national championship season.

Big brother realizes there is less media attention and not as much free gear at the Football Championship Subdivision level when compared with Rutgers and other Power 5 schools. But he’s OK with that.

“All of that stuff gets old if you are not happy,” said Ron’Dell, a Baltimore native who’s now a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman for unbeaten and top-ranked JMU. “It wasn’t an easy process. I think the goals are the same (down a level): You want to win. My biggest thing was to win.”

Carter and his teammates are certainly doing a lot of that. JMU takes a 13-0 mark and a 25-game win streak into the FCS semifinals Saturday.

The Dukes will host South Dakota State (11-2) at 4:30 p.m. . The winner advances to take on North Dakota State or Sam Houston State in the national title game next month in Frisco, Texas. The other semifinal is Friday night.

The Dukes advanced with a thrilling 31-28 win at home Friday night, with Ethan Ratke’s last-second field goal making the difference before an ESPN2 national television audience .

“That was positively the best win I have ever had in my life,” said Ron’Dell Carter, who had three tackles. “Just to be part of that was very special.”

JMU, like many top FCS programs, benefits greatly from the transfer of players from Football Bowl Subdivision schools. This season, the roster includes three players from the University of Virginia: receiver David Eldridge, defensive lineman Darrious Carter and linebacker Landan Word. Sophomore cornerback Sidney Wellons, an Indian River High grad, transferred from Morehead State.

JMU head coach Mike Houston, owner of a gaudy 27-1 record in two years with the Dukes, said a program has to be careful when considering high-level transfers.

“We are at a place that attracts a lot of attention for guys that are looking to transfer,” Houston said Monday. “I get multiple requests a week. We have (good) character people in our program. I want to make sure I protect that. We do a good bit of research.


“There is a reason they are leaving (another school). They could just be unhappy. All of the players that we have brought in have handled themselves well. No huge egos; normally, guys put their head down and work.”

Marcus Marshall, in his first season at JMU, spent two seasons as a top running back at Georgia Tech . That was a homecoming of sorts for the Raleigh, N.C., native, since both parents attended JMU and his father, Warren, was a Hall of Fame running back for the Dukes and played briefly with the Denver Broncos.

“The only (other) place I considered in the end was Iowa. That was it,” said Marshall, who rushed for 1,278 and averaged about seven yards a carry in two seasons with the Yellow Jackets. “My parents were here, my uncle went here. It felt like home. When I got here, everyone treated me like I had been here for years.”

The junior running back ran for 128 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns in the quarterfinal victory. A third TD run was called back because of a penalty. Marshall ran 43 yards on one play in the first quarter after the Dukes had gained just 49 yards on the ground in a playoff victory the previous weekend against Stony Brook .

“That definitely set the tone. He had an amazing game,” Ron’Dell Carter said of Marshall.

Marshall has 617 yards and eight TDs this season, including a season-high 135 yards against Maine. He said moving down a level doesn’t affect his goals.

“Since I was 6 years old, I wanted to go to college and play in the NFL,” he said. “If you came down a level and tried to alter that, you would be selling yourself short.”

The Dukes certainly aren’t doing that. Not with defense of their national title on the line.

“Everyone is going to give their best to knock us off,” Ron’Dell Carter said. “It is very, very hard to be No. 1.”

He noted that validation of his transfer and those of others from Power 5 schools can be seen in the Dukes’ locker room.

“You will see how happy I am,” he said