HARRISONBURG – Sorting through scholarship offers from 26 different schools split across 10 conferences in the FBS and FCS is no easy task.
But Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach) offensive lineman Tyler Stephens had his priorities.
“I knew I wanted to go to a Virginia school,” Stephens said Wednesday, “play for a Virginia team and get a good education while also playing great football.”
Stephens committed to James Madison late Tuesday, becoming the fifth pledge and first offensive lineman in the Dukes’ 2020 recruiting class.
He said he wanted to stay in the Commonwealth or at least within a few hours driving distance to home since his family is tight knit and both of his grandmothers are getting older.
Stephens said Appalachian State, East Carolina and Liberty were the other schools he considered most before calling JMU coach Curt Cignetti to give him the verbal commitment.
“When I went there for my visit, I just kind of felt like I fit,” Stephens said. “I knew my entire family would be comfortable with me there, so it just made sense. And you can get a great education and play great football there, too.”
One influence who helped push the Dukes to the top of Stephens’ list was offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski, according to Stephens.
He said him and Wroblewski hit it off after area recruiter and cornerbacks coach Matt Birkett introduced the two of them to each other.
“I would describe Coach Wrobo as very dad-like,” Stephens said. “His philosophy is that he’s not going to ask more from me than he would of his son, and that really resonates with me because you’re going to get coached hard, but still at the end of the day you’re going to be loved.”
Stephens said Wroblewski told him he’d likely play offensive tackle once he gets to Harrisonburg. Throughout his prep career with the Dolphins, Stephens, a Virginia High School League Class 6 All-State first-teamer in 2018, has played both tackle and center, and is moving to guard for his final go-around at Ocean Lakes this coming season.
He said he thinks his versatility will enable more opportunity for him to see the field faster with JMU.
“If a guy goes down and knock on wood that it doesn’t happen, but if a guy goes down, I think I can step in,” Stephens said.
The 6-foot-4, 286-pounder added he believes his style of play aligns with whatever the Dukes want to do offensively.
“I would say I try to be more technical in pass protection instead of just using raw strength,” Stephens said. “But then in the run game, you’ve got to anchor down and be strong. When I think of myself, I think I’m good at both, but run blocking is a little bit better for me.”
Stephens is the fourth commit in the class with multiple FBS offers and the third from the state of Virginia joining Stone Bridge (Ashburn) defensive end Mikail Kamara and Life Christian Academy (Chester) cornerback AJ Webb.
“I think it’s going to be a great class,” Stephens said. “... And when you see an FCS school land a player like [AJ] Webb, who had offers from Pitt and Rutgers, it’s a testament to how JMU is operating.”