James Madison football coach Mike Houston tells the tale of Walter Clement “Wally” Pipp to his Dukes every year.
Pipp was the New York Yankees first baseman who, as the story goes, sat out a game in June of 1925 because of a headache. Into the lineup went 21-year-old Lou Gehrig, who had three hits that day, stayed productive and replaced Pipp on an historically long-term basis.
Gehrig went on to play 2,130 consecutive games in his Hall of Fame career.
“We talk about, ‘You don’t want to be Wally Pipp. You want to be Lou Gehrig,’” Houston said.
The third-year coach’s annual message about seizing the day helps cultivate and sharpen depth that makes fourth-ranked JMU exceptional among FCS programs.
Madison’s Jake Brown, a sophomore receiver from Trinity Episcopal, was not among the Dukes’ top seven in receptions heading into last Saturday’s CAA game at Villanova. Brown started, as another player dealt with an injury. Madison’s first 13 offensive snaps included five passes to Brown. He caught all five, each for double-digit yardage gains, in a 37-0 victory.
“The coaches just told me I’d get my opportunity. They believed in me. I just went out there and did my job,” said Brown, named second-team All-Metro as a Trinity senior in 2015. “I just tried to focus on what I need to do and take what I had done in practice and translate it to the game.”
Brown, a 6-foot-2 175-pounder, finished with eight receptions for 72 yards, both team highs. He entered the Villanova game with five receptions for the Dukes (5-3, 3-1 CAA). In JMU’s 63-10 win at Richmond on Sept. 29, Brown made a late-game touchdown reception for 71 yards.
Brown is one of six former Trinity pass-catchers active in Division I. Trevion Armstrong (sophomore tight end) is at Nevada, Jack Freudenthal (junior tight end) is at Wake Forest, Zane Lewis (junior defensive back) is at Air Force, Rimoni Dorsey (junior defensive back) is at Pittsburgh, and Tink Boyd (freshman receiver) is at Virginia Tech.
“We’ve got confidence in Jake. We didn’t hesitate to put him in there,” Houston said. “We could have moved somebody from another position, but he has had a real steady, kind of come-along year. … He has worked very, very hard, and we’ve really been waiting on him to kind of come through for about a year and a half now.
“Really, we expected to get more out of him last year than what we got. I just think that shows a lot of maturity and growth.”
The FCS scholarship limit is 63. Madison’s depth plays as if the Dukes have far more, a tribute to the Dukes’ staff that identified and signed athletes who developed and are prepared. At Villanova, Madison had 13 tackles for losses. Three nonstarters were responsible for 4½, and those plays weren’t made after the outcome had been decided.
JMU allowed Elon 498 yards in a 27-24 upset loss two weeks ago. The Dukes limited Villanova to 157 yards.
“I thought our team really did a great job of using that to really yank them in line,” Houston said, referring to the Elon defeat. “We had to get back to doing the things that we do, having some pride and playing with physicality, and doing our job.”
The Dukes are off Saturday. Houston said the week’s agenda involves “three really physical practices,” which could be construed as another midseason depth-finding mission.
Note: Meadowbrook High graduate D’Angelo Amos, a sophomore, was named FCS special teams player of the week by STATS after scoring touchdowns on 89- and 81-yard punt returns during a 2:10 stretch at Villanova.