New-look West Virginia set for opener vs. FCS power James Madison | TribLIVE.com
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New-look West Virginia set for opener vs. FCS power James Madison

Associated Press
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AP
West Virginia running back Kennedy McKoy (6) is tackled by Syracuse defensive back Evan Foster after gaining yardage during the first half of the Camping World Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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James Madison Athletics
Pine-Richland grad Ben DiNucci competes for James Madison during the 2018 season.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Austin Kendall didn’t presume the vacant starting quarterback job was his upon arriving at West Virginia.

“I always knew there was competition,” Kendall said. “You have to work for it.”

Kendall was a career backup to Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma. Finally, the focus is on him seven months after coming to West Virginia as a graduate transfer. He will get the start Saturday when the Mountaineers open the season at home against FCS James Madison.

Kendall got a brief taste at starting last September, playing in Oklahoma’s first series against Baylor before being replaced by Murray. His other career appearances came in mop-up duty. He has attempted 39 career passes. His last full game was in high school.

New coach Neal Brown named Kendall the starter last week, beating out Jack Allison and Trey Lowe.

“I’m just excited to get on the field,” Kendall said. “I’m just trying to be the leader everybody needs.”

Brown has noticed in recent practices.

“What I’ve seen him do is probably be more vocal, just because he knows it’s now his offense,” Brown said.

New James Madison coach Curt Cignetti grew up in Morgantown, was a 1982 graduate of West Virginia and was a backup quarterback under two Hall of Fame coaches — his father, Frank Cignetti, and Don Nehlen.

Curt Cignetti spent the past eight seasons as coach at Elon and before that at IUP. His FBS stops as an assistant coach included Alabama, N.C. State and Pitt.

He was a West Virginia player when John Denver sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the 1980 debut of Mountaineer Field. Cignetti’s last time at the stadium was as an assistant under Pitt’s Walt Harris in the late 1990s.

“Obviously, a lot of great memories,” Cignetti said. “But truthfully, once we arrive at the stadium, it’s kind of all business, whether it’s Morgantown or anywhere else.”

Until Kendall finds his rhythm, West Virginia can rely on a stable group of running backs.

Kennedy McKoy led the Mountaineers with 802 yards and eight TDs last season. Also returning are Martell Pettaway (623 yards), Leddie Brown (446 yards) and Alec Sinkfield, whose 2018 season was cut short by a leg injury. James Madison held seven opponents under 100 yards rushing last season. McKoy and Sinkfield also could see plenty of passes thrown their way.

James Madison has 19 returning starters, including former Pitt quarterback and Pine-Richland grad Ben DiNucci, and is No. 2 in the preseason Championship Subdivision coaches poll . The Dukes lost in the second round of the national playoffs last year and lost to North Dakota State in the 2017 title game.

Normally, that would get an opposing coach’s full attention. But Brown is still trying to install a system with an inexperienced roster.

“We’re so young,” he said. “I’m going to be worried about what we’re doing. I don’t think we have to worry about our guys overlooking anybody or not respecting their game. All you’ve got to do is turn on film.”

DiNucci enters his second season as the starting quarterback at James Madison. He completed 68 percent of his passes last year for 2,275 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was the fourth-leading rusher with 433 yards and a team-high nine scores.

“I have total confidence and trust in him,” Cignetti said. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s done a good job of decision making.”

Categories: Sports | WVU
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