Scenes from Sun Belt Media Day: Coach Cignetti Gives Zero Damns

James Madison is predicted to finish 6th in the Sun Belt East, according to everyone but Coach Curt Cignetti

He smokes invisible cigarettes scented with mild disdain when the journos bring up the Dukes’ predicted finish in the crazy competitive Sun Belt East.

“Usually this time of year, I’m asked about competing for the national title,” says Coach Cignetti on the Sun Belt Media Days stage, flanked by two of his players, running back Percy Agyei-Obese and redshirt senior defensive lineman Isaac Ukwu.

The moxie is not without merit. JMU boasts ten conference championships and two FCS national championships, the last in 2016. The Dukes have skills. But do they have the size and depth to play a predominate FBS schedule.

“I don’t know,” Cignetti admits, though this may be classic coaching subterfuge. “I think we’re deeper in some places than others.” Expanding on depth, he speaks at length about Agyei-Obese, the fourth most prolific runner in JMU history. “Last season, he competed with four other backs,” said Cignetti. “He’s become the fourth leading rusher in school history without ever getting a full slate of carries.”

Agyei-Obese grins widely, a mixture of modesty and confidence. The player doesn’t fall far from the coach. Both will do well in the Sun Belt, where confidence can take you all the way to the conference championship – even if you’re not eligible.

“We can’t win the Sun Belt Championship,” says Cignetti, though if there is any regret in those words, they’re undetectable. “We have plenty of reasons to win.”

Rivalry is one such reason. The new Sun Belt East contains Marshall, ODU and Appalachian State – longtime foes of the Dukes. Then there is that FCS chip – that primal need to prove one self in the crucible of the FBS. Cignetti, unwilling to accept 6th place in any division, reveals no weaknesses.

I’m afraid to tell him that I picked the Dukes to finish last in the SBC East. On second thought, I doubt if he’d give a damn.

****

Keith Gill Continues to Be a Nice Guy

“Nice to see you again,” said SBC Commissioner Gill sitting down for an interview with the FunBelt Podcast. He’s in a great mood, and why not? He just signed an extension, and he presides over the hottest conference in college football. I asked him if he’s negotiating with Notre Dame to join the Sun Belt.

Gill is nice

“Ha! Noooo,” he laughed, though he pretends to take the suggestion seriously. After the podcast interview, he asked Thibs and I our opinions about the East and the West. It’s a topic we debate a good ten minute, though he likely had a pile of interviews after ours.

“You guys alway make me laugh,” he says on his way out. I chose to take that as a compliment.

Grayson McCall Says He Feels Good

“Shoulder surgery” are two words quarterbacks would rather avoid, but McCall seems fine enough. “I feel great,” he says. Also, he’s not too worried about losing guys like Isiah Likely and Jaivon Heiligh.

“Sam Pinckney has become a leader on the team,” said McCall, referring to the transfer poached from East rival Georgia State. “We’re going to be fine.” After we talk, it is evident that he and his Coastal crew are headed out.

“Not staying for the Sun Belt West?” I say.

“Not worried about the West,” responds McCall lightly. Ouch!

Quote of the Day

“Hatred is good. Indifference is what kills.” – Coach Rickry Rahne, Old Dominion