FCS Championship Football

North Dakota State wide receiver Phoenix Sproles (11) runs the ball in front of his team's bench during the first half of the FCS championship game against James Madison in 2020.

When Phoenix Sproles walked into Bridgeforth Stadium during his recruiting visit on Saturday, it all but solidified his choice to transfer to James Madison.

Sproles, a wide receiver from North Dakota State, never had the chance to play against the Dukes in Harrisonburg since the two teams met either in Fargo, N.D., or in the national championship.

But the visit just confirmed what he had heard about, even if it was during Thanksgiving break with a smaller student section on hand. The gameday environment was something that stood out to him, he said.

“Stepping into that stadium was a whole different feeling because we never played JMU at their place,” Sproles said. “So we never seen their stadium, we just heard about it. Actually going there and being in it, it was like, ‘Wow, I can’t turn this down.’ For my last year of eligibility, it’s a no-brainer for me.”

Just over 24 hours after the Dukes completed a 20-point comeback to down Georgia State in front of Sproles, he announced his commitment to JMU on Twitter, becoming the first transfer portal acquisition for head coach Curt Cignetti this fall.

Sproles has one year of eligibility remaining and will join the Dukes in January.

But just because Sproles hadn’t been to JMU’s campus before, didn’t mean he wasn’t aware of what the Dukes were capable of. Sproles had played against JMU twice in his career, including during the 2019 FCS championship game.

In that meeting, Sproles had a 13-yard reception and a 38-yard touchdown run. Over the two meetings against JMU, the 6-foot wideout tallied 70 yards of offense.

Sproles called the NDSU and JMU games “hard-fought battles.”

“Whenever we were playing them, we knew we had to bring our best game because we knew they weren’t a team to play with,” Sproles said. “Those games were all battles. It was always a war and they were the best games of the year.”

Sproles logged 61 receptions for 888 yards and two touchdowns during his 50-game career with the Bison.

But Sproles has turned the page on that chapter of his career and is looking ahead to playing with JMU.

While Sproles was in the transfer portal, JMU wide receivers coach Mike Shanahan soon reached out. And once the conversations began, Sproles looked at how the Dukes utilized their wide receivers over the past three seasons.

As he looked, Sproles saw that the Dukes spread the ball around to its different playmaking wide receivers, including Kris Thornton and Antwane Wells Jr.

When he looked at their eye-popping numbers, Sproles was confident he’d have a shot to help JMU’s offense in a similar role.

“Seeing those receivers do their thing, it was a no-brainer for me,” Sproles said. “I know if I have an opportunity to make an impact right away, which I plan on doing, I know they’ll do what they can to win football games and that’s getting their playmakers the ball.”

Outside of playing football, Sproles has a rather large social media following. The New Hope, Minn., native has more than 175,000 followers on Tik Tok and just over 25,000 on Instagram.

Sproles’ Tik Tok presence has garnered more than 4.2 million likes, where most of his videos on the app are a mixture of current trends, football and just him enjoying creating content.

“Social media has been huge for me,” Sproles said. “I built it all myself. It’s something that I’ve always had a passion for, being in the camera and just interacting with people and creating posts. It’s a passion of mine.”

Sproles signed with Limitless NIL, former Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s name, image, likeness agency, about six months ago and has been utilizing their resources to land brand deals. He’s worked with brands such as Body Armor and Game Face training in Minnesota.

Now, Sproles is focused on making his final collegiate season count as he strives to make it to the NFL and he said he believes that JMU can help him reach that.

“I know I still have a lot of good football to put out there and I want to show what I can do,” Sproles said. “I’m a playmaker, that’s why they offered me and I’m going to JMU to show just that.”

His last name is synonymous with his cousin, Darren, who played 15 years in the NFL and was best known for his speed out of the backfield. He inspired the younger Sproles to chase the NFl.

“My goal is to get to where he got and obviously do what he did or try to do even better,” Sproles said. “When people see Sproles, they’re thinking of Darren Sproles. And hopefully they’ll be thinking of myself here when I make a name for myself and it’s my time.”

Contact Noah Fleischman at 540-574-6296 or nfleischman@dnronline.com | Follow Noah on Twitter: @fleischman_noah

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