“Brotherhood” is many times a description that gets tossed out when it’s convenient or the cameras are on, but it’s not always true. At least not as often as it is used this day and age. James Madison begs to differ though, especially when it comes to its tight-knit band of running backs … a band of brothers who continue to pass a torch down to the underclassmen — sort of one of those "pay it forward" situations. That RB room will be a key part of the Dukes' game plan in Saturday's FCS second-round game against Monmouth.
From Khalid Abdullah crushing things in the national title year of 2016, to Cardon Johnson, Marcus Marshall and Trai Sharp in the years since to the next generation of totin’-the-ball diehards Percy Agyei-Obese (884 yards rushing, 15 TDs) and his brother from another mother, Jawon Hamilton (689 yards, 5 TDs) — it is all about pound-it-up-the-gut continuity. They form the backbone of the No. 10 rushing attack in the country — with five of the teams ranked ahead of them featuring some sort of run-heavy, option-based attack.
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These two current JMU rushing leaders, in particular, are so close that they choose to pray together. They thank the maker above for keeping an eye on them and they never forget to do it, either … whether it’s a practice, pregame, postgame or beyond. They never forget to give credit to something and someone bigger than themselves, and they insist nobody in the running backs meeting room loses sight of that, either. That is where the position harmony comes from, when so often there can be jealousy about who gets the most workload.
They insist it comes down to prayer.
"Before, Cardon, Marcus and Trai were like our big brothers, but Jawon and I knew it would be our turn to step up one day, and we wanted to keep that same chemistry with all of the guys that we had when we were the younger guys," Agyei-Obese told HERO Sports this week. "We wanted everybody to love each other, to have no hatred toward each other, ever. Me and Jawon? We pray together after every practice, every game … we pray for each other, for strength for the group and the team. That has really bonded us together."
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It all started in early 2018 when Hamilton transferred to JMU after spending two years at UCF. The Miami, Fla. native was a three-star prospect coming out of South Dade H.S., and he became an instant contributor on JMU's special teams as a kick returner and sparingly in the run game. Lining up immediately in front of him on the kick return unit was Agyei-Obese, the first-generation American son of Ghanaian parents who reside in Maryland today. While one came from sultry south Florida and the other from the Mid-Atlantic region of the country, they instantly connected. A lot of it had to do with their Christian faith — they both said that church is a big part of their background.
Obviously Hamilton didn't know anybody when he arrived on the Harrisonburg, Va. campus, but Agyei-Obese wouldn't let that continue for long. He invited him in, and they both have said it'll be a friendship that will last decades.
"When we would be on kickoffs, Percy would look back at me and say 'Follow me, you're my brother'", Hamilton told HERO Sports. "He'd lay dudes out just so I could go make a long run. He's always a shoulder I can lean on and it's amazing how close we became over the last year to two years. He's always been upfront and nothing's changed. He's a brother for life, and I know that in 10 or 20 years we'll still be talking and when he gets married, I'll be there to see it. And when I get married, he'll be there to see it."
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Hamilton went on to say that's how the whole running backs room is under RBs coach Matt Merritt, who once worked with players like Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde when he was a younger assistant at Ohio State. Whether it's Percy or Jawon, or Solomon Van Horse, Eric Kirlew, Austin Douglas, Latrele Palmer or even true freshman C.J. Jackson — the RB room doesn't have a "pecking order," an ego-infected hierarchy. It starts with their position coach and the two junior leaders, both statistically and spiritually.
Ultimately, it really starts with prayer.
"Faith is my No. 1 thing," Hamilton said. "I came from a praying family. My Grandma and my Mom, they go to church daily and we've always been blessed. We pray to lift up our spirits, and we lean on God for everything."
"I grew up in a religious household, a Christian household," he said. "We always look for strength through God, and we're thankful for the opportunities … to play football, to be healthy at this time of the season, the opportunity to be at JMU and have this close, tight-knit bond with our teammates. In the offseason, even in our downtime, we pray. We know it is bigger than football."
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