HARRISONBURG — Mike Houston and his staff at James Madison are adapting.
For the first time, Division I football programs can sign high school seniors earlier than the traditional first Wednesday of February. Prospects are eligible to send their signed letter of intent to their chosen college during the new Dec. 20-22 period.
“We’ve talked to all of our committed kids about using the early signing date,” Houston said.
Top-ranked JMU is on its bye week and its coaches are visiting with both its committed prospects and most-valued uncommitted targets.
Currently, the Dukes have eight prospects verbally committed — four from instate, and one each from Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
Two legacy prospects — Charlottesville athlete Rakeem Davis and North Stafford wide receiver Devin Ravenel — have already pledged their commitments. Davis is the younger brother of former JMU punt returner Rashard David and Ravenel is the younger brother of former JMU wide receiver Brandon Ravenel. Both older brothers were part of last season’s national championship squad.
“Coaches were out [Monday]. Part of the staff was out [Thursday],” Houston said. “I had the whole staff back Tuesday and Wednesday. But then everybody is out [today]. And we’re going to be everywhere from New Jersey to Florida.”
The early signing date has accelerated the timeline of the recruiting process, at least according to the second-year coach.
Typically, some of the visits from prospects to JMU or coaches to see prospects at their high schools happen once the season is over and doesn’t really ramp up until January. Now, the staff has had to balance both the daily grind of coaching the current team with preparing the program for the future.
And if the rest of this football season goes how last season went, the Dukes will be playing into January.
The Dec. 20-22 signing period would fall between FCS national semifinals on Dec. 16 or 17 and the national the championship game on Jan. 6.
“I think the early signing day is a good thing, but I think it also puts more stress on you in season,” Houston said. “We are having official visits in season for the first time ever this year. So we’ve already had one, but we have three others lined up for before the end of the regular season, and one of those [prospects] isn’t even committed right now. So it changes your recruiting.”
Rivals.com rates South Pointe High School (Rock Hill, S.C.) cornerback Jamari Currence and Kathleen High School (Lakeland, Fla.) wide receiver Reggie Brown as the Dukes’ top commitments. Both are two-star prospects by Rivals.
“It’ll be good to have a full year next year to really plan the recruiting cycle instead of having to adjust to the rule changes on the fly,” Houston said. “But I think there’s pluses and minuses to both. But we do anticipate all of our committed kids to sign on the early signing date.”
JMU tight ends and inside receivers coach Fontel Mines tweeted that he was heading to Florida to recruit. Inside linebackers coach Byron Thweatt tweeted “Nothing like recruiting hometown.” He was in Richmond.
As for Houston, he’ll be out recruiting as well tonight, just with some help.
His oldest son, Owen, is going to join him on trail.
“Owen is going to help me go scout [tonight],” Houston said. “I’m going to see a high school football game, so he’s going to go with me. It’ll be the first time he’s going on a recruiting adventure like that.”