By: Heather Aadahl
This feature is the first of a three-part look at former JMU student-athletes currently competing in the professional ranks and their reflections on how JMU prepared them for where they are today.
According to the James Madison University Athletics mission, "We guide and support the JMU Student-Athletes in their quest for excellence-academically, athletically and socially. Above all else, we exist to prepare our Student-Athletes for productive and meaningful lives."
As members of the JMU athletics family, student-athletes are held to a high level of athletic competition and personal development. For eight alumni competing in the professional circuits of athletic competition, their time in Harrisonburg as Dukes was the necessary preparation for performance at a higher level of competition. The hours of team and individual instruction on the field and life lessons learned off the field from the coaches at JMU have made a lasting impact on these athletes.
The Madison Experience
Third-year veteran inside/outside linebacker for the Buffalo Bills Arthur Moats attributes his success at a professional level to the preparation he earned at JMU. "[JMU] gave me mental toughness so I could endure all the many distractions and hardships of playing in the NFL," said Moats. The toughness that he learned was a by-product of instruction by former defensive line coach J.C. Price and strength coach Jim Durning, who impacted Moats during his time as a Duke. "They both helped me to understand what it would take to be a dominant player and have a chance playing at the professional level," explained Moats.
The countless hours that coaches and trainers spend with the athletes is priceless, based on the life lessons and character-building experiences that the coaches and athletes share. For Arizona Diamondbacks closing pitcher Kevin Munson, the entire baseball staff was instrumental in developing him into a professional pitcher. Primarily, Coach Ted White worked closely with Munson to develop his pitching and fundamental mechanics. "He talked with me more during the games and helped keep me locked in," shared Munson.
The trio of baseball coaches at JMU was instrumental in Cleveland Indians minor league catcher Jake Lowery's path to the baseball minor leagues. Lowery attributed his training of catching skills behind the plate with Coach Ted White to his win of the Johnny Bench Award for the nation's best catcher. Coach Jay Sullenger assisted Lowery with developing his hitting skills, which led to him winning the National Hitter of the Year award. In addition, "Coach Mac [Farland] was instrumental in developing my mental game, which may be the best skill I can have in the game," said Lowery. "He helped me focus on things only I can control and helped me stay in the moment and leaving the past behind."
Women's soccer 2010 alumna Corky Julien described the JMU coaching staff as "priceless" and recalled that the entire staff had an impact on her collegiate development. "I remember meeting [the coaches] for the first time and they made me feel like I was where I belonged, like a second home so far from Canada," said Julien. Specifically, Julien attributed head soccer coach Dave Lombardo with influencing her playing abilities through his encouragement and belief in what she was capable of accomplishing. Additionally, the coaching of Bobby Johnston and Rachel Chupein has influenced Julien. "[Coach Chupein] set my standards high, both on the field and in the gym and I don't think she has any idea how much she has influenced who I am today," added Julien.
The influence and knowledge of the JMU coaches also prepared the athletes for the challenges that lay ahead of them upon entering the professional sports circuits. For Sporting Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong, JMU has had a major impact on his professional experience thus far. "Whether it was learning to balance life as a student and an athlete or going up against talented players everyday in training, everything I went through at JMU helped me be successful to this point," shared Sapong. He was drafted as the 10th overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and was named 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year.
The Big Leagues
Though the professional soccer and baseball circuits have their differences, Lowery also explained that his time at JMU prepared him for not only professional baseball, but the experience of living the professional life as well. "I was able to mature in college, thus being able to handle myself on the road and in living out of a suitcase for months. I was also around good coaches with an infinite amount of knowledge about baseball, but more importantly, life skills," said Lowery.
Another alum impacted by the coaching staff and the life lessons they shared is Tamera Young, the first women's basketball player from JMU to be drafted into the WNBA. While a guard/forward at JMU, Young spent extra time working out in order to achieve her dreams. "Every day, I was motivated to prove doubters wrong," said Young. "JMU is a mid-major school from the basketball side and everyone doubted the fact that I could make it to the WNBA going to a mid-major college who has never had a player make it." The opportunity to play under Coach Kenny Brooks provided Young with the encouragement to pursue her dreams.
The intensity of Coach Brooks' coaching style and the individual workout times that he arranged with Young were instrumental in her development as a player. "The days where in my mind I was tired, Coach Brooks would send me a text and ask if I was working extra to pursue my dream," recalled Young. The extra time and preparation at JMU resulted in Young leaving JMU with multiple awards tucked under her belt. Until the 2010 season, Young was the all-time leading scorer for JMU and still holds the school record for the most steals in a career. She also garnered the CAA All-First Team award three times and earned the 2008 State Player of the Year and CAA Player of the Year awards.
Fellow basketball alum Juwann James also explained the ways in which his time at JMU prepared him for the professional level of competition in which he plays today. "JMU prepared me by teaching me the true meaning of the word 'professionalism' on and off the court," said James. He explained that the basketball coaching staff had a certain mental and physical standard set for the players, which aided in improving the players' basketball skills and determination to become their best.
James also explained performance challenges that he has experienced which are similar to the ones that Young described. "The main challenge that I faced throughout my path here was not being considered a top player by many teams because I didn't come from a power university in basketball-in terms of some ACC, SEC or top basketball universities," explained James. "Just like any career, I had to work my way up the ladder and prove my talents to many people and teams, which made it challenging because teams started to stereotype me without knowing much about me." The differences between collegiate and professional competition is one that takes adjustment.
The different pace of the professional soccer circuit has also impacted the way that Julien views successes. While at JMU, "I learned how to control my fitness levels, as well as my relationships," she said. "Even now, it's a constant battle to break into the next level. There will always be new challenges, but it's what makes my job exciting!" Julien explained that to become one of the best soccer players in the world requires more work and time than striving to become an All-American player. Similarly, earning an Olympic medal requires more work than anything else, but it is effort that she finds rewarding.
Please check back at JMUSports.com next week for part two of this feature.