There’s nothing easy about playing college football. Long, grueling practices in the heart of summer test even the toughest players’ limits. The word “soft” doesn’t exist in any coach’s vocabulary, and players will do whatever’s necessary to put their opponents on the ground.

Every team in the Football Championship Subdivision faced a long, difficult path between them and the national championship at the start of the season, but JMU was forced to undergo one of the hardest.

The Dukes entered the season with their third head coach in four years. They lost their first game of the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons and had yet another tough conference schedule ahead of them. Yet, despite everything that stood in their way, JMU prevailed.

“You look at going through three different coaching staffs, going through some personal stuff on the team that we had to overcome, even the schedule of games we had … we were able to come away with winning every game at the FCS level,” Matt Frank, a redshirt senior offensive lineman, said. “That’s incredible.”

JMU finished the season 14-1, including a perfect 9-0 record against fellow Colonial Athletic Association teams. It beat all four teams that finished behind them in the conference standings on the road.

During their playoff run, the Dukes faced the University of New Hampshire, a team that was in the postseason for the 13th straight year; Sam Houston State University, the highest scoring offense in the FCS; North Dakota State University, the five-time defending national champions; and Youngstown State University, a team under the guide of respected head coach Bo Pelini. They outscored all four by a combined 115 points.

“All the hard work finally paid off,” senior wide receiver Brandon Ravenel said. “Only one team gets this in the nation. And for that to happen, it just made everything worth it.”

Not all of their wins came so easily. JMU was forced to overcome a fierce comeback by New Hampshire during their first matchup. It went head-to-head in a shootout with the University of Richmond and barely edged by with a four-point victory. Against Villanova University, the Dukes were able to win despite playing a majority of the game without junior quarterback Bryan Schor.

“When you have a coaching staff such as Coach Houston’s come in and really be that final piece to make it all click, to make everyone believe and everyone work for one another just like a family, I feel like that’s what brought us to the national championship,” redshirt senior linebacker Gage Steele said. “Being all together, fighting as one and realizing what we are fully capable of and not letting anything get in our way.”

Eleven starters from this championship team graduate this year, leaving a much younger squad to carry on the success. The season opener is eight months away, but everyone within the program believes they’re bringing back a team that’s just as talented as the one that walked off the field in Frisco, Texas, surrounded by confetti.

“I’m confident in every single one of them,” Steele said. “I know they’re going to be hungry. They got the right coaching staff. They got the right player personnel. I don’t see why they can’t do it again.”

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Matt Weyrich is the editor of The Breeze for the 2017-18 school year. He was previously sports editor, where he covered JMU football's National Championship run.