Quarterback has an appendectomy; I write two stories

JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong.

JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong.

This is an example of how the Internet has changed reporting. JMU’s starting quarterback had an emergency appendectomy Tuesday (Aug. 6, 2013), which the school announced that day. 

I wrote a quick, initial story, to get out the news, based on the information I had. Then, after calling and texting people (notably a doctor to find out about appendicitis and appendectomies) and going to JMU football practice, I wrote a second story for Wednesday’s paper (Aug. 7, 2013). Story 2 was totally different from Story 1. It had to be because the news was old at that point. Here are both stories.

The first version:

HARRISONBURG, Va. — The James Madison football team’s quarterback problems just got worse.

JMU announced Tuesday around noon that starting quarterback Michael Birdsong would be out “indefinitely” because of an emergency appendectomy.

The release said Birdsong’s appendectomy is today but did not say when.

“This definitely is disappointing for Michael and the entire program,” JMU coach Mickey Matthews said in a statement. “He had a very solid spring to prepare for the season, so I know he is disappointed personally. We will adapt, starting with today’s practice, and hope that Michael will have a speedy recovery and can be back on the field soon.”

Birdsong — a sophomore who played last season as a true freshman — is the only quarterback with significant college experience on JMU’s roster. The Dukes currently have no No. 2 behind the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Matoaca.

The recovery time from an appendectomy, according to various medical websites, is two to four weeks, which puts Birdsong in danger of missing the Dukes’ Aug. 31 season-opener against Central Connecticut State.

If that happens, it is unclear who would be the starting quarterback.

Lafonte Thourogood, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Vanderbilt in 2012, is the logical choice. He competed for the No. 2 spot behind Justin Thorpe last season, but hamstring injuries cost him the job. The No. 2 role eventually went to Birdsong, who briefly supplanted Thorpe as the starter before injuring his ankle and missing the final two games of the 2012 season.

But Thourogood, other than taking a few snaps in mop-up duty last season, hasn’t played quarterback since starring at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach.

JMU opened preseason practice Monday with Thourogood, a former three-star recruit, playing both quarterback and running back.

The other quarterback options are all true freshmen. Dan Schiele and Alex Girvan are both walk-ons. Lukas O’Connor, while also a true freshman, has an extra year of experience after attending prep school at Avon Old Farms in Avon, Conn. He graduated from Culver City High School (Calif.) in 2011. O’Connor is on scholarship.

Currently, the player on JMU’s roster with the most college experience at quarterback is senior tailback Dae’Quan Scott. The R.E. Lee graduate played the position in wildcat formations and isn’t considered a passing threat.

The second version:

HARRISONBURG, Va. — On Monday, Lafonte Thourogood’s role on the James Madison football team was vaguely defined. The Vanderbilt transfer would play quarterback, he’d play running back, and nothing permanent would be decided for a while.

On Tuesday, that changed.

Starting quarterback Michael Birdsong underwent an emergency appendectomy Tuesday at around noon. That put his status in question for the Dukes’ Aug. 31 season-opener and made Thourogood the temporary No. 1 QB because of his experience — not that he has much, but Madison’s other options all are true freshmen.

“You got to work him that way right now,” JMU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said Tuesday after practice, the Dukes’ second of the preseason. “He’s got some experience. He’s got some understanding.”

JMU coach Mickey Matthews said there is no time frame for Birdsong’s return. The 15th-year coach said Birdsong, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Matoaca, complained of stomach pain Monday night before having surgery Tuesday.

Matthews said Birdsong’s appendix did not burst — a fact that Dr. Peter Hallowell, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Virginia medical center, said helps Birdsong’s chances of playing against Central Connecticut State on Aug. 31.

Hallowell said the recovery time for an appendectomy is typically two to four weeks, depending on the invasiveness of the surgery and severity of the appendicitis, which is an inflammation of the appendix, a windsock-like attachment at the end of the intestine.

“If it’s early and you get it before it’s inflamed or irritated, you can do the [surgery] laparoscopically,” said Hallowell, referring to a minimally invasive procedure that uses small incisions. “You can recover pretty quickly. The holes that we make in the abdominal wall are pretty small, so it’s just a matter of how those heal up. … That’s really the limiting factor of people getting back to activities or sports.”

Hallowell said the fact that Birdsong is a football player isn’t a big deal, and that an Aug. 31 return isn’t implausible.

“The patients tend to be very healthy and in good physical shape,” Hollowell said. “Without knowing any of the details of [Birdsong’s] case… it’s hard to comment, but there have been instances of athletes having appendectomies and being back on the field in a relatively short period of time, some under two weeks, some under four. So it’s certainly possible.”

Birdsong was more certain. When asked via text message Tuesday evening if he could make it back for the season-opener, he replied: “Without a doubt.”

He also said the surgery went well — “I think it went as good as it could” and “they didn’t have to cut me open” — and that he felt OK only a few hours after the surgery.

“I’m feeling better now than before the surgery,” Birdsong said. “That’s for sure.”

Still, JMU will need to get a quarterback ready just in case.

Thourogood, a 6-foot-2, 228-pound redshirt sophomore, hasn’t played significant time at quarterback in a game since he starred at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. The former three-star recruit also missed most of last season and the spring because of injuries to his hamstrings, calf and shoulder.

A positive of this not-so-positive situation is that Thourogood finally will get the reps he needs to develop. The current scouting report on Thourogood is that he’s a tremendous athlete but an unpolished quarterback. O’Cain, hired last spring after being fired by Virginia Tech in an offensive staff purge, said he needed to see more of Thourogood before making a more precise assessment.

What’s obvious is that Thourogood is different from Birdsong, a prototypical pocket-passer.

“He should be a fine ball-carrier,” O’Cain said. “He has not worked the passing game like you would like him to because he has not practiced in a couple of years. And even in high school, he wasn’t in a dropback-passing [offense]. I think with him, you get him to the corner more. You wouldn’t do a lot of true dropback throwing the ball down the field, reading the entire field. You would get him on the edge, do more things like that. You put the ball in his hands more.”

O’Cain said it wouldn’t be necessary to overhaul the offense — a multiple attack that had been built around Birdsong’s arm — for Thourogood and that it is adaptable to different styles. O’Cain also said that because Birdsong will return in a short time, an overhaul wasn’t needed.

“Two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, whatever it’s gonna be — you’re going to get him back,” O’Cain said. “It would be different if he was lost for the year.”

Thourogood left practice Tuesday before he could be reached for comment.

JMU’s other quarterback options — again, all true freshmen — are scant. Dan Schiele and Alex Girvan are both walk-ons. Lukas O’Connor, while also a true freshman, has an extra year of experience after attending prep school at Avon Old Farms in Avon, Conn. He graduated from Culver City High School in suburban Los Angeles in 2011.

Currently, the player on JMU’s roster with the most college experience at quarterback is senior tailback Dae’Quan Scott. The R.E. Lee graduate played the position in wildcat formations and isn’t considered a passing threat.

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