Thorpe, Others Finished At JMU

Posted: December 7, 2012

Daily News-Record

HARRISONBURG — In October, the NCAA awarded Justin Thorpe a sixth season of eligibility. If the quarterback uses it, it won’t be at James Madison.

JMU coach Mickey Matthews said Friday that Thorpe will not return for his sixth season. As for whose idea it was, Matthews wouldn’t comment except to say that he didn’t try to talk Thorpe into staying.
“When Justin said he didn’t think he was coming back, I said that was fine,” Matthews said. “That was kind of the deal.”

Matthews said Michael Birdsong, the No. 2 quarterback this season as a true freshman, will be the starter in 2013.

It is unclear if Thorpe will use his extra year of eligibility somewhere else. The fifth-year junior did not return a voicemail seeking comment Friday, and Matthews said he didn’t know if Thorpe plans to play football next season.

“I’ve had limited conversations with him, but I think he plans on graduating and moving on with his life,” Matthews said.

If Thorpe earns his degree before transferring, he will be eligible under NCAA rules to play anywhere immediately if he starts on a new degree. If he doesn’t get his degree at JMU, he would have to play in Division II or III because he would have to sit out a year in D-I – and sitting out a year isn’t an option because he has just one season of eligibility remaining.

Thorpe isn’t the only player leaving early.

Matthews said that tailback Jordan Anderson and wide receiver Renard Robinson, both redshirt juniors, will not return for their senior seasons.

“They came to me and said they didn’t want to play their fifth year, and I certainly understood that,” Matthews said. “And Jordan’s pre-med, and he had some really tough classes, and Renard is a very good student. They didn’t want to play their last year. We have to honor that.”

Reached via text message, Anderson declined to comment.

Robinson, when asked why he isn’t coming back and if it was his decision, said, “I’m not coming back because I’ve decided, in the best interests [for] me, that it’s best that I end my career this season and graduate and move on to the next phase of my life.”

Multiple sources, however, said that Robinson was not invited back. It is unclear whether Anderson wanted to stay.

Anderson, who showed flashes in 2011, never got going in 2012. He had just 67 carries in 11 games, averaging 20.3 yards per game and 3.4 yards a carry. He scored one touchdown. Robinson, who had a limited role in JMU’s run-based offense, had 12 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown in 11 games.

Thorpe completed 62 percent of 205 passes for 1,529 yards and 11 touchdowns but he was intercepted nine times. He averaged 152.9 yards passing per game. A running threat, he also was the team’s second-leading rusher, averaging 68.1 yards per game. He ran 151 times and scored 10 touchdowns.

Now, his career, at least at JMU, is done — and it was a career defined by inconsistency.

After winning the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2009, Thorpe missed 2010 season with a knee injury sustained in the first game of the season. He returned in 2011 but was suspended five games for failing, sources said, a second drug test.

Thorpe entered this season as the Dukes’ unquestioned starter, and Matthews even called him the most talented quarterback he’s had at Madison. But Thorpe was inconsistent, eventually getting benched in favor of Birdsong on Oct. 20 at Richmond — a benching he didn’t handle well. After being taken out, Thorpe kept to the other side of the sideline from the offense and appeared to pout. He later apologized for his behavior.

Birdsong started the next game against Georgia State, but Thorpe returned the following week against Maine, playing as part of a platoon, to claim CAA Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Thorpe and the offense, however, struggled down the stretch. The Dukes lost their last two games and missed the playoffs. Had Birdsong not been hurt — he injured his ankle in the last minute against Maine — Matthews said he would have played both quarterbacks the rest of the season.

Next year, expect JMU to tailor its offense — and its offensive coordinator — to the strong-armed Birdsong.

“Our quarterback’s going to be Birdsong, and the first thing we’re doing to do is talk to some people. We’re very excited about him, about how well he throws the ball,” Matthews said. “We’ll continue to mix in some option, but certainly, he’s not an option-style guy.”

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