JMU redshirt junior quarterback Justin Thorpe can now get his encore.

After facing two serious injuries earlier in his career, the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility Monday allowing him to come back next season.

Thorpe was unable to play in his true freshman season in 2008 because of shoulder surgery coming out of high school and a sustained bone bruising in his knee in the first game of his redshirt sophomore season in 2010. The injuries kept him out for the remainder of that season.

Thorpe was listed as a redshirt senior before receiving the sixth year. He’s now considered a redshirt junior.

Even though few players gain a sixth year of eligibility, Thorpe was confident that he would earn the additional season.

“We had a solid case,” Thorpe said. “The injuries are there, the rehab is there. All of the rehabs I went to, its all logged. So we had a solid case.”

Even though he expected to get a sixth year, Thorpe and his family are ecstatic about the opportunity to play for an additional season.

“I’m just living the college guy’s dream, getting a sixth year in college and getting a chance to play football for James Madison,” Thorpe said.

 According to head coach Mickey Matthews, the shoulder injury was what earned Thorpe the extra year of eligibility, but the knee injury didn’t play a factor in the ruling. A five game suspsension last season made 2009 his only full season.

Despite having played for only one full season, Thorpe has made an impact on the team. His career record as a starter is 14-6 and has won his last 12 Football Championship Subdivision games.

“Justin’s a popular member of the team,” Matthews said. “The kids like him, they elected him captain, they elected him offensive MVP.”

Thorpe is a senior on the academic side and will graduate in May. When he comes back for next season, he will try to start graduate school. 

“I haven’t really gone into the details of [the academics], because [the ruling is] still fairly new,” Thorpe said. “I still have to talk to my academic adviser and see what’s the plan.”

True freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong has seen playing time throughout the first four games this season. If Thorpe didn’t receive a sixth year of eligibility, he likely would have started next season. But Birdsong is looking at the ruling in a positive light.

“It doesn’t change my mindset at all,” Birdsong said.  “I don’t want to have it easy, so him coming back for his sixth year is just going to make him better and me better.” 

The team isn’t changing its game plan for the rest of the season with Thorpe coming back. The coaching staff is committed to him as the starter and Birdsong as the backup.

“We’re not going to change the direction we’re going,” Matthews said. “We made the decision that we feel like our two best quarterbacks in August were Justin and Michael. So we’ll continue down the path we’re going with those two guys.”

With Thorpe getting another year to play, the Dukes have now had two players within two years receive a sixth year of eligibility. Defensive tackle Nick Emmons, a 2009 transfer from the United States Military Academy at West Point, received an extra year to play last season after a season-ending injury early in the 2010 season.

But after an injury in the fourth game against William & Mary, he missed the remainder of the season. 

Thorpe may have another year to go, but he sees himself as a regular senior.

“My mindset hasn’t changed,” Thorpe said. “I’m still playing like I’m a senior, because in this game of football, it can always be your last play.”   


Contact Wayne Epps Jr. at