HARRISONBURG — Mikail Kamara didn’t realize the significance when he gave James Madison his word.
“Honestly, it wasn’t anything I was thinking about,” he said. “It wasn’t in my head, but now thinking about it, being the first one is kind of special.”
The Stone Bridge (Ashburn) defensive end became the first commitment in the Dukes’ 2020 recruiting class when he gave Madison his pledge during a visit to the school on Wednesday.
Kamara said he was happy to share his decision with first-year JMU coach Curt Cignetti and his staff in person.
“It was great,” Kamara said. “There was a lot of excitement.”
Kamara chose JMU after narrowing his choices of 10 scholarship offers to two – the one from the Dukes and the other from FBS Kent State, he said.
Wednesday’s visit, which included his entire family, was Kamara’s second to Harrisonburg and he said it only reaffirmed what he felt during his initial visit when him and his father took a trip to JMU this past March. Kamara earned his offer from the Dukes last month.
“When they first offered me they were on the top of my list,” Kamara said. “I just had to think on it with my family a little bit more and had to go on a visit to see the academic side, too, in addition to the football side, which I already knew about. And I loved the school, so I’m excited that I’ve made my decision.”
The lead recruiter on Kamara is JMU wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Shanahan, who stayed connected with the 6-foot-2, 230-pound defender throughout weeks and months ahead of the decision.
“I really like him,” Kamara said of Shanahan. “He was the first person to talk to me from JMU and he was always looking out for me, texting me and all that type of stuff.”
Through Shanahan, Kamara was introduced to defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman during that first visit. From Hetherman, Kamara learned exactly how he’d fit within the Dukes’ defense.
As a junior at Stone Bridge last year, Kamara racked up 72 tackles, 16 sacks and three forced fumbles while earning Virginia High School League Class 5 second-team all-state honors and helping the Bulldogs to a Region 5C championship.
“[Hetherman] really sees me playing as a rush end and being real fast off the edge,” Kamara said. “Rushing on the line, rushing from the linebacker stance and then playing some coverage, so a lot of things.
“And last year I played straight end, so all I did was rush the passer. But this year we’ve changed the defense a bit, so I’ll be rushing from linebacker and from defensive end and also playing coverage and playing some middle linebacker.”
There’s something else Kamara said Stone Bridge does similar to JMU – win – and that helped attract him to Madison, which he called ‘the powerhouse of the FCS.’
“They carry a high standard for the players they bring in and the coaches they bring in,” Kamara said. “They have a good football culture and they’re expected to win every single year. That’s something I really like. At Stone Bridge, there’s the same kind of expectations and that’s something I really like.”