James Madison QB back after failed drug testFARGO — There were five Saturdays this fall when Justin Thorpe was literally an armchair quarterback.
By: Kevin Schnepf, The Dickinson Press
FARGO — There were five Saturdays this fall when Justin Thorpe was literally an armchair quarterback.
Suspended for five games for a failed drug test — according to CSN Washington.com — the quarterback for James Madison’s football team had to watch five of his teammates’ games on the Internet from his apartment.
“I still feel nervous like I’m about to play,” Thorpe was quoted as saying back in October. “Every play that happens, I’m on the edge of my seat.”
Based on the results, Thorpe was probably slumped in his seat with disappointment. Without Thorpe, James Madison — the FCS football power from Virginia — lost three of those five games.
Ever since Thorpe returned to the lineup on Nov. 12, the Dukes have won three straight games. Thorpe, whose only loss in 11 career starts has been to big-boy North Carolina, hopes to make it four straight today in the Fargodome with a second-round playoff win over North Dakota State.
“No doubt about it, they are not as good without him,” said former Bison assistant coach Jeff McInerney, whose Central Connecticut State team lost to Thorpe and James Madison 14-9 back on Sept. 10.
“In my humble opinion, he is their pulse beat. He is a huge difference maker.”
Thorpe, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt junior from Richmond, Va., was the Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year in 2009 when he ran for 654 yards and threw for 1,260 yards. Last year, he missed all but one half because of a knee injury.
This year, after a 42-10 season-opening loss at North Carolina, Thorpe led JMU to a 3-1 record and a No. 9 FCS ranking. Then, the Monday after an impressive 20-14 win over No. 6 William & Mary, James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews announced that Thorpe was suspended for violating the school’s athletics policy.
“I think the entire JMU nation is stunned over the news,” Matthews was quoted as saying, referring to a fan base that celebrated a 2004 national title and one that usually fills up the Dukes’ 25,000-seat stadium.
Despite the suspension, Thorpe continued to work out with the team. And he remained the team’s captain. “Justin is a very popular member of the team,” Matthews once said.
Even more popular after his return, helping James Madison reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. He ran for a season-high 93 yards in last week’s 20-17 win over Eastern Kentucky — nearly 40 yards better than his season average.
He can pass well enough to keep defenses honest, throwing for nearly 100 yards per game for an offense that averages 234 yards rushing — which ranks 10th in the nation.
If there has been a thorn in the side of NDSU’s defense, it has been potent rushing teams. In the Bison’s only loss this season, Youngstown State ran for 214 yards in the Fargodome. In their last loss of last season, Eastern Wash-ington ran for 241 yards.
It all starts with Thorpe, one of the fastest Dukes who has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“You’re dealing with a three-element guy who does a lot of things,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “He is a big-time player.”
Schnepf is sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.