This is a story I broke while seeing Captain America 2. I got a text with about 40 minutes left in the movie that said quarterback Michael Birdsong had asked JMU for his release that morning. I spent the final act of the movie confirming and eventually tweeted — broke — the news during Captain America’s climactic battle with the Winter Soldier. It is the first of five stories covering this. It ran April 15, 20014
HARRISONBURG, Va. — Michael Birdsong is out at James Madison.
Two sources said the Dukes’ 2013 starting quarterback asked for his release Monday morning and that the junior will transfer — a fact later confirmed in a university statement.
Neither Birdsong nor JMU coach Everett Withers could be reached for comment, but Withers addressed Birdsong ‘s transfer in the statement.
“We are grateful for Michael’s contributions to the football program,” said Withers, hired in December after being the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. “We are building an atmosphere of competition at James Madison, and he was a big part of that this spring. He informed us this morning that he felt like he could better pursue his football goals at another institution. While disappointed, we respect his decision and wish him the best.”
Birdsong ‘s departure isn’t a surprise.
Withers added Georgia Tech transfer Vad Lee in January. Lee, a rising junior, started at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets in 2013 and had a preexisting relationship with Withers, a former assistant and interim head coach at North Carolina. UNC recruited Lee when Lee was a three-star recruit coming out of Hillside High School in Durham, N.C.
“[Withers] wasn’t my recruiting coordinator, but I thought I was going to North Carolina out of high school and I was there all the time,” Lee said after Saturday’s spring game. “So I got to know all the coaches.”
Birdsong , a rising junior who set passing records at JMU last fall, and Lee had been battling for the 2014 starting quarterback job. Lee had a better showing than Birdsong in Saturday’s spring game, completing 11 of 18 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound junior rushed for 69 yards and two TDs on six carries.
Birdsong , a 6-4, 230-pounder from suburban Richmond, went 9-for-24 for 112 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
It now appears nearly certain that Lee will be JMU’s starting quarterback when the Dukes open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 at Maryland. The top backup options are sophomore Dan Schiele (2013’s No. 2) and true freshman Rob Nittolo.
Possible landing spots for Birdsong are believed to be Charlotte, Marshall or Old Dominion. Each school has a coach with a JMU connection. For Charlotte, it’s head coach Brad Lambert, who is a close friend of former JMU head coach Mickey Matthews. Matthews recruited Birdsong and was fired after the 2013 season. Marshall and ODU each have a former JMU assistant on staff. At Marshall, it’s J.C. Price, and at ODU, it’s Ulrick Edmonds.
Marshall is Division I-A, and Charlotte and ODU are both transitioning to I-A.
If Birdsong transfers to a I-A school or another I-AA school, NCAA rules mandate he sit out a season before being allowed to play. Birdsong never redshirted, so he won’t lose a season of eligibility. If he transfers to a D-II or D-III school, he can play immediately.
If Birdsong transfers to another Colonial Athletic Association school, he won’t be eligible for a scholarship until his second year.
Last year, in his only season as JMU’s starting quarterback, Birdsong set several school passing records, including yards in a game (355), yards in a season (2,728), touchdowns in a game (five) and touchdowns in a season (22). However, it was the first year JMU really made a commitment to passing under Matthews. Birdsong also set the record for most interceptions in a season (15) while the Dukes went 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the CAA to miss the I-AA playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
As a true freshman in 2012, Birdsong was Justin Thorpe’s backup before taking the starting job mid-year. Birdsong’s season ended with two games left when he suffered an ankle injury at Maine.