James Madison offensive lineman Sammy Junco pushes sled during the first practice of the season on Thursday, October 5th, 2020 at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Va.

Twelve high school seniors put pen to paper as they signed their letters of intent to play football at JMU. It marked the end of the most peculiar recruiting period in college football history and began their transition to z ascollege football. 

Normally, a few incoming prospects would graduate early and join the Dukes in January so they could participate in spring training. This year, though, none of the 12 signees will enroll early. Head coach Curt Cignetti said he’s encouraging the young athletes to take advantage of their senior year; and for those who’ll have a spring football season, to enjoy their last year as high school football players. 

Eight signees are from Virginia, with three from Maryland and one from New Jersey. This year’s signing class consists of a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, defensive lineman, two safeties, three offensive linemen and three linebackers. 

Four recruits — linebackers Skylar Martin and Matt Binkowski, tight end Zach Horton and offensive lineman Josh Toner — are three-star players according to 247Sports. This pushes JMU to the No. 1 class in the CAA despite having to do most recruiting via Zoom. 

“We were a little bit more aggressive early in the process,” Cignetti said in his National Signing Day press conference. “I think this is a really strong class. Almost every one of these guys had FBS offers and many of them had Ivy League offers, too. You’re getting the best combinations.”

Cignetti and his coaching staff had to be innovative as they couldn’t scout players in person. Relying solely on film only goes so far, with summer camps proving to be a coach’s opportunity to see how players practice.

Despite dealing with the negative effects that COVID-19 brought to the college football world, Cignetti remained steadfast on the attributes he looks for in players. He dissects every recruit’s transcripts to get an idea of what they’re like in the classroom. 

Cignetti credited wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Shanahan in adjusting to the restrictions the NCAA set, while also praising his staff for still garnering a highly-rated class in the FCS. 

From the athlete’s perspective, no on-campus visits hindered the ability to get a true feeling of what campus life is like. Some still found a way to evaluate their potential to fit like incoming quarterback Billy Atkins, who drove to JMU with his family in order to get a feel of the Harrisonburg area. 

In the spring months, Cignetti said there was hesitancy from prospects, meaning the Dukes had to put together a virtual pitch that showed recruits what JMU was like as a school, football team and overall brand.

“We’ll go up against the big boys. We’re not afraid to do that,” Cignetti said. “We had some guys that had Power-5 offers and chose James Madison … We’re really not gonna beg and plead. We’re just gonna do the best job we can of presenting James Madison University.”

The full list of JMU’s signing class along with each player’s high school and position can be found below.

Josh Toner

High school: Cherokee (Marlton, New Jersey)

Position: Offensive line

Matt Binkowski

High school: Battlefield (Haymarket, Virginia)

Position: Linebacker

Billy Atkins

High school: Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore)

Position: Quarterback

Zach Horton

High school: Northside (Roanoke, Virginia)

Position: Tight end

Matei Fitz

High school: Tuscarora (Leesburg, Virginia)

Position: Defensive line

Messiah Russell

High school: Warwick (Newport News, Virginia)

Position: Safety

Jaelin Montgomery

High school: Prince George (Petersburg, Virginia)

Position: Offensive line

Jaelin Walker

High school: Varina (Richmond, Virginia)

Position: Linebacker

Skylar Martin

High school: Stone Bridge (Ashburn, Virginia)

Position: Linebacker

Scott Hummell

High school: Linganore (New Market, Maryland)

Position: Offensive line

Maxwell James

High school: Lake Braddock (Springfield, Virginia)

Position: Wide receiver

Kye Holmes

High school: Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)

Position: Safety

Contact Noah Ziegler at For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.