Matthew Hatfield, VirginiaPreps.com
HARRISONBURG — It’s the same feeling Willie Drew has about his Smithfield High School team that he said led him to pick James Madison.
Drew, a two-star prospect by Rivals.com, selected JMU over FBS schools Old Dominion and Virginia while surrounded by his family, coaches and teammates at an on-field ceremony Friday before leading the Packers to a 34-7 win over Warhill.
“I felt that when I first got there,” Drew said in a phone interview over the weekend. “I felt the love. I felt the family. I felt the connection like how it is here at Smithfield.”
The 6-foot, 174-pounder plays quarterback and defensive back at Smithfield, and will play cornerback at JMU. Drew said he took his official visit to JMU in Week 2, when the Dukes beat East Tennessee State 52-10.
His high school coach, Reginald Chavis, said JMU made Drew a priority, spearheaded by the school’s second-year offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring.
Stinespring’s ties to the Newport News-Norfolk-Virginia Beach area of the state stretch back over a couple of decades when he started recruiting there for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.
“Me and Coach Stinespring go back,” Chavis said. “And Willie put his faith in me about which coaches to trust and not trust.
“And I can’t say enough about how much Willie pays attention to his support system, and how he doesn’t just shoot off with a response. He takes everything in to develop a decision, and that’s one of those high IQ things I like about Willie. And with coach Stinespring, that connection with the school, and with me, and now with Willie, it made all the sense in the world.”
Drew said JMU freshman linebacker KeShaun Moore, another 757-area product, was the host for his official visit last month.
“He was telling me just how the great the school is and how great the coaches are to him,” Drew said. “And I hadn’t heard anything bad about James Madison University.”
On his visit, Drew said he also was able to learn about the Dukes’ defense.
He said cornerbacks coach Tripp Weaver instructed him to watch JMU cornerbacks Jimmy Moreland, Curtis Oliver and Rashad Robinson closely during the game. Moreland had an interception and two pass breakups, Robinson forced a fumble and Oliver notched a couple of tackles.
“Most of my [scholarship] offers were to play defense, but James Madison was the fit because I like the style of defense that they run and play,” Drew said. “So I felt like I would fit perfectly in their defensive scheme.
“And I was looking at their corners and I felt like I could be those guys, doing what they do.”
Drew said he thinks he’ll be able to play as a freshman at JMU.
He scored four total touchdowns – three rushing and one passing – in Smithfield’s win Friday night. Chavis said it took time for Drew to grow into a full-time two-way player, but that Drew’s only gotten better over the past few seasons.
Drew began his high school career as a wide receiver and defensive back before Chavis’ first quarterback at the school left. Drew took the reins as the quarterback last year, but it led to limited action on defense.
“I laid out the challenge for him,” Chavis said, “because I had always been a guy that thought if you’re playing my quarterback position, I can’t use you on defense.
“But then this past year, over the summer, I was just like ‘Willie, we got to have you on the field, man.’ It came with a good conditioning and weightlifting regiment and he stuck to the plan.”
Chavis added he thinks Drew is a smarter player because he plays both sides.
“The style of offense that we play is similar to a lot of the spread offenses you see in college,” Chavis said. “He understands reads, [run-pass options] and what the schemes look like instead of just memorizing how to run plays. He understands what’s the reason for it and the down and distance behind it, so he has that high IQ for the game.
“That’s definitely going to help him out in college.”
Drew was JMU’s ninth commitment overall. The team received a 10th on Sunday when Hermitage linebacker Mateo Jackson pledged.