Dukes To Enter Fall Camp With Quarterback Battle Underway

James Madison will enter fall camp in the same spot it was last season — in a quarterback battle.
A year ago, it was Colorado State transfer Todd Centeio, William Atkins and Alonza Barnett III competing for the starting spot. By the midway point of camp, it was clear that Centeio had won the job.
Centeio dazzled in his lone season with the Dukes en route to being named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. But he has since graduated, and JMU did not have a clear No. 1 quarterback after spring practice concluded, stretching the signal-caller competition into the start of fall camp.
Position Outlook
Departing Players: Todd Centeio (graduated)
Returning Players: Billy Atkins (redshirt sophomore), Alonza Barnett III (redshirt freshman), Blake Kendall (redshirt freshman)
Additions: Jordan McCloud (Arizona transfer, redshirt senior) and Brett Griffis (Wake Forest transfer, redshirt freshman)
What We Know
The competition began as a four-way battle between the scholarship quarterbacks in spring practice, and two quarterbacks appeared to pull away: Barnett and McCloud.
“Right now, we’re giving Alonza and Jordan a little more work,” JMU coach Curt Cignetti said in mid-April. “[It] doesn’t mean the other two are out of it. I see progress every single day and we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Barnett and McCloud cycled through the first-team reps in spring practice, while Atkins and Griffis mixed into the second and third-team groups for much of camp.
But in the spring game, all four saw action, either with the first or second-team groups.
James Madison quarterback Alonza Barnett (14) hands the ball off to running back Latrele Palmer (5) during an NCAA football spring game in Harrisonburg, Va., Saturday, April 22, 2023.
Daniel Lin / DN-R
McCloud led the quarterbacks with 145 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-12 passing in the spring finale and had a 64-yard score to wide receiver Reggie Brown in the process.
Barnett went 8-for-12 with 64 yards in the spring exhibition, while Atkins logged 50 yards through the air on 7-of-10 passing.
“They had some success,” Cignetti said after the spring game. “Alonza had a good first drive and Billy made a few throws. And McCloud on the third down play, they busted coverage, Reggie got open and he got him the ball. They’ll go to bed tonight knowing they made a few good plays.”
Barnett and McCloud appear to be the frontrunners heading into the resumption of the quarterback competition in fall camp, but Atkins is the only one in the room that has started a game at JMU.
The Parkton, Md., native started against Marshall instead of Centeio, who was a game-time decision. In that contest, Atkins was 13-for-35 passing with 164 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions.
What We Don’t
It’s been 19 months since McCloud played in a college football game after he exited Arizona’s 2021 game against UCLA with season-ending leg and ankle injuries. He didn’t appear in a game last season and entered the transfer portal mid-year as he was listed as the co-backup.
When McCloud was healthy, he was one of the top Group of Five quarterbacks in the country at South Florida during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With the Bulls, McCloud threw for 2,770 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions (only two in 2020).
McCloud capped his USF career with the best game of his college career, with 404 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-46 passing against UCF. As McCloud demonstrated in the 58-46 loss to the Knights, he can use his arm, but his legs remain a threat, which fits the mold JMU utilized Centeio with a year ago.
Centeio ran for 366 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his only season in JMU’s offense after he averaged more than 3.3 yards per attempt for the duration of his collegiate career.
In his freshman season at USF, McCloud rushed for 283 yards and four touchdowns, but he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. His rushing numbers fell in 2020, with 74 yards and one touchdown in eight games.
Daniel Lin / DN-R
But McCloud rebounded with 75 rushing yards in the three games he played at Arizona and averaged 4.2 yards per carry — a career-best.
While McCloud hasn’t appeared in a game since December 2021, Barnett has only played 11 collegiate snaps, including eight in the Dukes’ 63-7 blowout win over Norfolk State and a trio in JMU’s 47-7 rout of Coastal Carolina.
In his two appearances, Barnett completed his only passing attempt for a 14-yard completion and recorded four rushing attempts for 15 yards.
Though Barnett didn’t have much run under center last fall, he worked his way up to the second-string spot at the tail end of the season.
Barnett’s sample size at the college level is extremely small, but in his senior year at Grimsley High School in North Carolina, he dominated the competition. Barnett logged 2,954 passing yards with 36 touchdowns and five interceptions, while he recorded 648 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns at the helm of the Whirlies.
The ‘X’ Factor
Historically, Cignetti has started an upperclassman at quarterback in all four seasons at the helm of the Dukes.
In 2019, it was fifth-year Ben DiNucci who won the job before Cole Johnson earned the spot in both the 2021 spring and fall seasons — his fifth and sixth years of college football. Last fall, Centeio, who was in his sixth year of college football, started for the Dukes.
And it looked to be a similar result after Centeio’s departure.
In a somewhat expected move, Cignetti brought in McCloud over the offseason to provide experience at the position — and to push for a starting spot.
But with Barnett’s flashes in practice and the spring game, Cignetti’s decision isn’t as straightforward as some might have expected in fall camp. The fifth-year coach looks for separation between quarterbacks to make the call in a race, and neither Barnett nor McCloud pulled away in spring camp.
For Barnett to buck the trend of veteran signal-callers under Cignetti, he’ll most likely have to outshine McCloud this August. In last year’s competition, Centeio was the clear frontrunner by the end of fall camp, but Cignetti said he would have leaned towards the veteran if it were a tight race.
“At that position, you’d really like a guy that’s been through the wars,” Cignetti told the Daily News-Record about last season’s quarterback competition in December. “[In] football, there’s not a lot of patience out there. You’ve got to win now. In the past they talked about taking four to five years to build a program, well this place never was like that. This was a place that you would win now and you had to win now. Even moving into the Sun Belt, I wanted a guy that had been through the wars.”
This time, the thought process could be the same as Cignetti, but Barnett’s decision-making and potential have kept him in the thick of the quarterback battle, even though he’s played less than 15 snaps at the college level.

Latest Player Notes

How Wisconsin athletes are benefiting from a unique NIL deal with Madison's Exact Sciences

Feb 17, 2024MJ Hammill entered what can be a scary time of an athlete’s life in mid-December.She went into the volleyball ...

Mike Griffith: Texas is Georgia's primary focus this offseason

February 16, 2024The Georgia Bulldogs face three SEC contenders on the road next season in Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. According ...

Navigating a season that could see Texas play Georgia more than once

February 17, 2024The Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs will play in Austin on Oct. 19. It may not be the only time they ...

After some key departures from the team, Dykes got busy in the portal this offseason.

5:11 PM on Feb 16, 2024Biggest unanswered question: Who will emerge as the clear WR1?Before last season, Williams was the ...

How Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm balances transfer portal, high school recruiting

Louisville Courier JournalCollege football used to buzz on the first Wednesday in February, but Louisville football's office ...

Bob Asmussen | Illinois defense counting on linebackers to plug the gaps

College Football Reporter/ColumnistCHAMPAIGN — A new linebacker coach is in place at Illinois, and Archie McDaniel said he ...

Where Alabama’s quarterback group stands before spring practice

Alabama football’s offense is going to look different this season. Kalen DeBoer has replaced the retired Nick Saban as head ...

Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee ...

Colorado football self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations from Deion Sanders’ first year with Buffs

1/26/2024The Colorado football program has self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations since the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders ...

What Steve Young said about today’s NFL quarterbacks

By Jackson Payne Steve Young may have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling just ...
See More Player Notes