Redemption Tour Ends
Ex-Dukes Impacted By The Mess At Virginia State
HARRISONBURG – Former James Madison quarterback Justin Thorpe calls teammate Lamont Britt a “good friend of mine,” and he wasn’t about to throw him under a bus Monday – in part, because of his own history.
Authorities have charged Britt, a Virginia State running back, with misdemeanor assault in last week’s beating of Winston-Salem State quarterback Rudy Johnson, a beating that prompted the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association to ban the Trojans from the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The decision had another effect: turning a season of redemption for two JMU castoffs into a nightmare that once again prematurely ended their careers.
After being told during the offseason that they were no longer needed at JMU, Thorpe and tailback Jordan Anderson found a new home at Virginia State, where they joined coach Latrell Scott – an assistant at Madison last year – for one final season of football.
The two seniors led the Trojans to a 9-1 record this fall and appeared headed to the playoffs, a perfect ending to a pair of imperfect careers. Now, their college football days are over.
Even so, Thorpe expressed no bitterness toward Britt, citing his own past. The Richmond native was suspended by James Madison for five games in 2011 for failing, sources said, a second drug test.
“Coming from me and my personal history, I would be a hypocrite if I sat here and pointed a finger at [Britt], even though he has to accept responsibility for what he did,” Thorpe said by telephone. “I understand that everybody mistakes, and it only takes a split second to make a life-changing mistake.”
Britt’s other teammates, Thorpe said, have a similar attitude.
“Nobody [on the team] has shown that they blame him because he’s really popular on the team,” Thorpe said. “Everybody knows he’s a good guy, but I don’t think anybody is happy with the decision that he made. Nobody points the finger at him.”
Thorpe’s college career is now over, and – obviously – he isn’t happy about that.
“It was unfortunate,” Thorpe said of the season ending. “We had a great season, and all season Coach Scott preached to us that things can be taken away from you in the snap of a finger. To have somebody snatch your last few possible games of your career away, it’s tough to deal with. For my senior season to be ended this way is kind of tragic.”
Thorpe, a highly touted prospect who received a sixth year of eligibility but was cut loose by Division I-AA JMU after a string of mostly disappointing seasons as the Dukes’ on-and-off starter, was Virginia State’s No. 2 rusher with 512 yards on 101 carries. He also threw for 1,296 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Anderson, cut by the Dukes after the 2012 season, led the Trojans in rushing with 1,142 yards on 214 carries, earning first-team All-CIAA honors.
“It’s always disappointing to end a season on a loss, an injury, any type of situation where you have to end it’s always disappointing,” Anderson said. “This situation here is no different.”
Except it is – Johnson’s beating has made national news, thrusting an anonymous piedmont college into a harsh and unwanted spotlight.
The Trojans were set to play WSSU for the CIAA championship Saturday before the beating, which occurred in a bathroom Friday during a pre-game conference luncheon. The game was cancelled and the CIAA declared Virginia State ineligible for postseason play.
Anderson said he has not spoken to Scott since before the incident.
“Ending your season on an injury, a loss or in this case not being able to play, it’s always dissatisfying, but at the end of the day you have to move on,” Anderson said. “The season went well. I enjoyed my time.”
A sharply critical Winston-Salem State Chancellor Donald Reaves said Monday that Scott was “more out of control than his players were” when talking about the fight.
Anderson, though, spoke highly of Scott.
“I’m very high on Coach Scott, and the reason I’m high on him is I know that more than he wants to win is he wants us to succeed, not only on the field but also in life,” Anderson said. “Having him as a coach in my last year it was easy for me to see that and I was able to not be stressed out… I was very comfortable.”
Thorpe also talked about his relationship with Scott.
“He always told me to stay positive during game-time situations when [JMU coach] Mickey [Matthews] would be getting on my nerves …” Thorpe said. “Coach Scott would always come to me and make me feel better about myself.”
Scott apologized for the incident before the postseason ban was announced.
“I apologize for yesterday’s unfortunate incident at the CIAA luncheon,” Scott said in a statement. “One of our players made a mistake and cost our team the opportunity to play in the CIAA championship game today. This isolated incident does not represent us as a team or university and we extend our deepest regrets to the WSSU player involved.”
In addition to Scott, the Virginia State staff also includes Chris Malone, the Dukes’ former offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Malone was fired in December 2012. Also on the staff is former JMU tight end Brian Barlow, VSU’s running backs coach.
After the Trojans finished 5-5 in 2011 and 4-6 last season, Anderson said, Scott “changed the culture” at Virginia State. The Trojans this season outscored opponents 323-174 and won the CIAA Northern Division after being picked to finish 10th in the 12-team conference.
Anderson graduated from JMU in August with a degree in health sciences. Thorpe also graduated from JMU with a degree in sport and recreation management.
“It’s a great feeling knowing I actually had coaches that believed in me to do what they brought me here to do,” Anderson said of his time at VSU. “At JMU, I know when I got on the field I pretty much made my mark, made it known what I was able to do on the field. Here, basically being able to get the keys to the offense is just great.”