WASHINGTON (DC News Now) – This year has been historic for James Madison University athletics.
Despite suffering its first loss of the season at Georgia Southern on Saturday, the JMU football program continues to make strides, growing its footprint in the Washington, D.C. area.
Located about two hours from the district, the Dukes have generally been seen in the city and immediate surrounding suburbs as a less notable program compared to schools like Virginia and Virginia Tech.
JMU 6th-year graduate running back Percy Agyei-Obese grew up in Damascus, Maryland, and played high school football at Oakdale high school in Ijamsville, Maryland in Frederick County.
Agyei-Obese recalls that JMU football didn’t get much recognition when he was in high school, but says that’s definitely changed now.
“My little sister is at [Oakdale right now] and she’s always just like all the little kids come up to me,” Agyei-Obese told DC News Now. “They’re like, ‘oh my gosh, I saw your brother.’ She’s like, ‘I’m like the popular kid at school.'”
After years of rumblings that it was a possibility, the Dukes announced a moved up from college football’s FCS to the FBS level in November of 2021. The team joined the Sun Belt conference.
A consistent winner and perennial title contender at the FCS level, the Dukes won national championships in 2004 and 2016 and finished as FCS runners-up 2017 and 2019.
The winning hasn’t stopped despite the move. The Dukes are currently 5-1. After starting the season 5-0, JMU was ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, the first such appearance in program history.
“People are just like, ‘I love JMU. I love JMU,'” Agyei-Obese said. “And I feel like just now the noise of JMU is so big and I feel like now it’s just becoming a normal name around town.”
Curt Cignetti is in his fourth season as the Dukes’ head coach. They’ve compiled a 38-6 record under his leadership. He said that the DC area plays a big role in the team’s recruiting.
“We have a lot of really good football players on our team from that area,” Cignetti said. “Guys in the past have done very well. We consider it in state. We consider Virginia, Maryland and D.C. as an in state area and we comb it thoroughly.”
JMU redshirt senior defensive lineman Isaac Ukwu is another DMV native in his sixth year with the program. He played high school football at Wise in Prince George’s county and Springbrook in Montgomery County in Maryland.
“People like going to where people are winning and when there’s a culture of winning,” Ukwu said. “I feel like that’s really resonated with some of the younger kids and the high school kids coming up, seeing that JMU is a place that you can go to and play football at a high level and have fun winning.”
JMU will host Marshall in Harrisonburg on Saturday. Under NCAA rules for moving up a level, they are not eligible for the postseason. DC News Now discussed all of this and more with Cignetti last week, you can find the full interview here.