The James Madison Dukes head into the National Championship for the second straight season with one last box left open on their preseason checklist: secure the title and leave Frisco as Champions.
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All-American tackle Aaron Stinnie reflected on the preseason goals JMU set out for itself as he spoke with HERO Sports on FCS Championship Media Day earlier this week, and said so far, the Dukes have stuck to the script and accomplished everything they set out to do.
“Coming into the season I think we had the same goals that we had last year," he told HERO Sports. "It all started that we wanted to go win the CAA, and after that we just wanted to take it one game at a time and get through the payoffs to get where we’re at now. I think we just had the same mindset and went about things the exact same way.”
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The Dukes are a perfect 14-0 on the season, have already tied the program record with a 14-win season, and are looking to win their 27th straight game on Saturday. They currently hold a 26-game winning streak, the longest in Division 1 football — FBS or FCS.
The perfect season so far in the win-loss column hasn't come without its setbacks. Player injuries have thrown a wrench in the plans and the loss of Trai Sharp's father mid-season was a blow to the entire team.
But as Stinnie told HERO Sports, the team has adopted the next man up philosophy you hear so much in sports, especially along the offensive line.
“I’ve been proud of a lot of the guys," Stinnie said. "Our offensive line is very young right now and so for everyone to be able to step up the way they did this year is very impressive — guys going down, guys able to hop right in and things not falling off a beat. We like to say ‘next man up,’ so for everyone to do that, I’ve been very proud with all the young guys.”
The Dukes have one last test in front of them, and it's a doozie. North Dakota State is a dynasty in every sense of the word, and the Bison are back in Frisco for the sixth time in the last seven years, looking to add another trophy to a display case that's already full.
And not only does this Bison team want another trophy, they want to knock off a team that took them out in the semi-finals last year.
James Madison has a bit of a different cast of characters this time around — as does NDSU — but this group knows they need to stay true to their identity to win the title.
Marcus Marshall, a transfer running back who has exploded so far in the playoffs and heads to Frisco off back-to-back two touchdown games, said the Dukes are committed to what's gotten them to this point.
“In a simple way, we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing," he told HERO Sports. "Obviously we’ve been winning and we know how to win, I think it just comes down to preparing the same way we have been for every other game.”
That feeling rang true from several players. When asked if he was changing up his on-field or off-field routine this year in Frisco, Stinnie smiled and said he'd probably keep things pretty similar:
“I think we liked the outcome that we had last time so I think we want to come out and try to get the same things going.”