HARRSIONBURG – No position group has changed more in a couple of months than the wide receivers.
First-year James Madison coach Curt Cignetti drastically altered the look of the roster by adding three transfer receivers to the team since mid-May.
Former Penn State wide receiver Brandon Polk and former West Virginia wide receiver Dillon Spalding are immediately eligible for the Dukes while former Virginia Military Institute wide receiver Kris Thornton must sit out a year due to NCAA rules before he sees game action.
Mixing new faces determined to contribute along with returning starters and some younger players with the potential to help the team is exactly why the JMU wide receivers might also have the most wide-open competition heading into August training camp. Here’s a closer look at those three imports and the rest of the receivers at Madison:
Returning Starters: r-senior Riley Stapleton, r-junior Jake Brown, r-sophomore Kyndel Dean
Other Returners On Roster: r-sophomore Jamir Hudson, r-sophomore Ezrah Archie, r-sophomore Alex Miller, r-sophomore Josh Sims, r-sophomore Daniel Adu, sophomore Devin Ravenel, r-freshman Reggie Brown, r-freshman Davis Patterson
Newcomers: r-senior Brandon Polk, junior Kris Thornton, r-freshman Dillon Spalding, freshman Kevin Curry
Storyline: The school still hasn’t handed down a punishment for Riley Stapleton, who pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment in an Indiana County (Pa.) court this past spring, so until that happens there are two ways of examining the Dukes’ wide receiver core.
One is with Stapleton and the other is without him.
With Stapleton, an All-Colonial Athletic Association second team choice last year after hauling in 62 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns, the Dukes have their jump-ball leaping, go-get-it-at-the-highest-point pass catcher. He is a playmaker at the position and a clear starter who allows the rest of the position group to fill a role around him.
Without him, the Dukes and first-year wide receivers coach Mike Shanahan will likely have to lean on returning starters Kyndel Dean and Jake Brown to pull more weight and then either newcomers to learn quickly or those who haven’t contributed significantly yet to finally do so.
Dean and Brown both emerged in 2018 as reliable targets for quarterback Ben DiNucci. Dean does it from the outside and stretches the field, and Brown, from the slot, with his natural instincts for finding the holes within an opposing defense. The duo combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards to go along with seven touchdowns last year.
Beyond Dean and Brown, Polk fits the mold of a transfer who needs to contribute right away considering he only has this year of eligibility left. Polk was productive for Penn State at times, registering four receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in four seasons in Happy Valley. Spalding is closer to Stapleton in size than Polk, but doesn’t have the experience after redshirting in his only season at West Virginia.
Both Polk and Spalding will have to catapult past Ezrah Archie and Josh Sims, two receivers who have earned game reps before fighting injuries during their careers, as well as Daniel Adu, Reggie Brown, Jamir Hudson and Devin Ravenel, who each took advantage of the many reps they earned during spring practice.
Either way, with competition on the horizon, the Dukes should be deeper at receiver than they were last year.