Ex-Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee shining at James Madison

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Often times it can be easy to lose track of players that move from the spotlight of a major power conference like the ACC to the often overlooked playing fields of the FCS. If you forgot about former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, then you can certainly be excused. He just started his second season at James Madison of the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the strongest or deepest conferences in the FCS on a regular basis, and he has started his 2015 season with a bang.

Lee was named the Offensive Player of the Week by the Colonial Athletic Association on Monday for his strong efforts in James Madison’s season-opening victory over Morehead State. In the win, Lee completed 18-of-25 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns before being rested in the third quarter. Lee also rushed for 105 yards on 13 rushing attempts and scored a fourth touchdown on the ground. Combined, it was the third-best single-game total yardage of Lee’s career. The highlights of the day came via a 66-yard touchdown run and a 66-yard touchdown pass to JMU receiver Ishmael Hyman.

Lee left Georgia Tech in the spring of 2014, ultimately landing with the Dukes in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was there Lee was reunited with the coach that had previously attempted to recruit him to North Carolina, Everett Withers. The new head coach of the Dukes was quick to insert Lee into the offense in 2014. James Madison went 9-3 last season and participated in the FCS playoffs. Lee set new school records for single-game passing, completion percentage, single-seaosn touchdowns and more while also collecting some awards and recognition throughout the season. He finished fourth in the Walter Payton Award voting (Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams, now at Oregon, finished second in the voting) and he beat out Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller for the 2014 Dudley Award (top Division 1 football player in Virginia).

Lee and the Dukes have two more games to play before hitting the road for the first time this season. James Madison, ranked No. 13 in the STATS FCS Poll, will travel to SMU. The Mustangs are in their first season under head coach Chad Morris, and have already shown some offensive flair in the season-opening loss at home to Baylor. James Madison is no stranger to pulling an upset of an FBS foe. The Dukes upended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2010. Can Lee lead James Madison to score a win against an FBS opponent once again? We will find out on September 26.

Lee was joined on the CAA’s first set of weekly honors by teammate Raven Greene. The safety was named the conference’s defensive player of the week after totaling eight solo and nine total tackles and one forced fumble.

Les Miles makes cameo in Dr. Pepper’s new college football ad campaign

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The college football offseason is a time of transition in what can be a volatile business with very little job security. That’s true for the coaches and, apparently, the commercial pitch men. Dr. Pepper, one of the leading ad buyers in college football and a lead sponsor of the College Football Playoff, shelved its concession salesman Larry Culpepper (played by Jim Connor) after four seasons.

“Larry Culpepper has been a great part of our Dr Pepper college football sponsorship for the past four years and has helped us delight fans throughout the season. With the renewal of our college football sponsorship, we’ve decided to take our football-related advertising in a new creative direction and are planning an all-new campaign this season,” a Dr. Pepper spokesperson told Ad Age in May.

The new campaign is now out, and the soft drink brand has replaced one over-the-top character with another. Exit, Larry Culpepper. Enter, Les Miles. Also making cameos are College Football Hall of Famers Brian Bosworth and Eddie George.

The former Oklahoma State and LSU head coach and current aspiring actor makes a cameo in Dr. Pepper’s new “Fanville” universe that will surely have you begging for mercy by the first of October.

If you didn’t notice the first time around, make sure you rewind to the 49-second mark and check out the bag Miles snacks out of.

Texas Tech RB Da’Leon Ward arrested on felony theft charge

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Texas Tech running back Da’Leon Ward was arrested Tuesday on a charge of theft between $2,500 and $30,000, a felony.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Ward was the subject of a Texas Tech Police Department investigation after three cell phones were reported stolen from Texas Tech’s student recreation center in a 20-minute period last Nov. 14. He was indicted in June, but the indictment was sealed.

Texas Tech did not have a comment on Ward’s arrest, because the Avalanche-Journal broke the news of Ward’s arrest to the Tech athletics department.

A Dallas native, Ward became the first true freshman since 1999 to lead the Red Raiders in rushing in 2016, carrying 103 times for 428 yards and three touchdowns while catching 18 passes for 131 yards. Despite playing sparingly or not at all until late October, Ward exploded late in the year. He rushed 23 times for 98 yards against TCU and rushed a combined 67 times for 272 yards against Texas, Iowa State and Baylor to close that year.

Ward, however, redshirted in 2017, to improve his “academics and maturity.”

Entering the year, Texas Tech expected Ward to pair with senior Tre King to handle the majority of the Red Raiders’ carries.

Former Texas A&M linebacker alleges recruiting, practice violations by Jimbo Fisher’s staff

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Former Texas A&M linebacker Santino Marchiol revealed in June he intended to transfer to Arizona. The Aggies had hired a new coach, Jimbo Fisher, and the coach who recruited him, Kevin Sumlin, was now in Tucson. Marichol enrolled at Texas A&M in January of 2017 and redshirted his first season in College Station, meaning to make the move to Arizona, he’d have to sacrifice a season of eligibility unless the NCAA granted him a waiver.

And as Dan Wolken of USA Today details, Marichol tried a perhaps unprecedented path to gain immediate eligibility at Arizona: by alleging NCAA violations at his old school. According to Marichol, he was handed hundreds of dollars in cash by Aggies assistant Bradley Dale Peveto to host recruits on official visits:

On two separate weekends this spring, Marchiol told USA TODAY Sports, he was given hundreds of dollars in cash by linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto to entertain prospects on unofficial visits. Those recruiting visits occurred, he said, following the April 14 spring game with Zach Edwards, a three-star linebacker from Starkville, Mississippi, and the second weekend in June with four-star linebacker Christian Harris (now a Texas A&M verbal commitment) and Nakobe Dean from Horn Lake, Mississippi, ranked as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country by Rivals.com.

While NCAA rules at the time allowed schools to give a student host $40 a day to entertain recruits during official visits, prospects must pay their own expenses for unofficial visits, meaning any money provided by coaches would be an NCAA rules violation. Recruits are allowed to take up to five all-expenses-paid official visits each, but many also add unofficial visits to see other schools or make additional visits to a favorite school. News accounts of the visits that Marchiol discussed indicate all were unofficial.

Marchiol describes being taken aback after the spring game when Peveto pulled him into a bathroom near the coaches’ offices and handed him $300.

“There were coaches having meetings in the other office, and he said, here, come in the bathroom real quick because he’d just asked me to host the recruit,” Marchiol said. “So I went in the bathroom and it was just me and him in there, and he’s like, ‘Take this, if you need any more just text me and make sure they have a good time.’ ”

On the second occasion, Marchiol said, the money exchange took place in the bathroom at Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe in College Station, a restaurant where the team frequently takes recruits to eat. Marchiol said he received $400 in cash from Peveto and  that a teammate Marchiol identified in his waiver request was handed another $300 during the exchange.

“You know how you tip people in Vegas? He had the cash in his hand and he like handed it to us like, here (with a handshake),” Marchiol said.

But that wasn’t the only way in which current Aggies coaches have skirted NCAA rules, according to Marichol. Over this summer, Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Elko directed players to spend time at the football facility working on football activities far beyond the allowable levels as permitted by the NCAA.

When Texas A&M’s players returned after Memorial Day weekend, defensive coordinator Mike Elko brought his players into a meeting and made clear what he expected of them: “He said, ‘We’re going to have a lot of meetings and practices that aren’t technically required, but you guys have to be here because you’re way behind. We need to win,’ ” Marchiol said. 

Marichol said players were required to be at the facility from 9 a.m. until “well after” 6:30 p.m. four days a week through the summer and that coaches observed and instructed their 7-on-7 practices, with Elko demonstrating proper technique and alignment, as would be typical of a fall or spring practice but disallowed in the summer by NCAA bylaws.

Finally, Marichol said Aggies trainers mishandled an ankle injury he suffered in June.

Marchiol said he believes he was pushed to play through the injury because of a belief coaches frequently shared loudly with the players: The Aggies program had been like a country club under Sumlin. In fact, he said, everything in the message of Fisher and his assistants had been themed to demand more toughness, from the duration of workouts to the language coaches used on the field to players being told outright that highly rated recruits were coming to replace them.

Marichol is being represented by Thomas Mars, an Arkansas-based lawyer who represented Houston Nutt in his suit against Ole Miss. The NCAA does not comment on current or potential cases. A Texas A&M spokesperson said: “Texas A&M Athletics takes these allegations seriously, and we are reviewing the situation with the NCAA and the SEC Office.”

The Aggies open their first season under Fisher on Sept. 1 against Northwestern State (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

South Alabama stadium effort loses Mobile city council vote

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South Alabama would like to build a new stadium. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an FBS program in more need of a new playing facility than the Jaguars. USA plays in Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which hits the trifecta of bad stadium arrangements:

A) Too big. (Ladd-Peebles holds 45,000. South Alabama’s proposed new stadium would hold 25,000.)
B) Too old. (Ladd-Peebles opened in 1948.)
C) Too far. (Google says it’s a 20-minute drive from campus.)

The school and the city have partnered on a proposal that would require $10 million of Mobile’s dollars over the course of a 20-year period, in exchange for $2.5 million from USA to Mobile earmarked for improvements to Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Mobile’s city council held a vote on Tuesday, and the package failed by a 4-3 tally.

“I am disappointed with today’s decision. It sends a message to the NFL that the City does not support the Senior Bowl. It leaves Ladd Stadium with zero funding to create a facility that meets the needs of the neighborhood and the four high school football teams that play there. It leaves the City with no plan to solve the $33 million maintenance issue,” Mobile mayor Sandy Stimpson said in a statement. “Ladd will now have to compete with every other public facility fighting for funding. Over the course of the next 10 years, the City will accumulate $225 million in maintenance costs. This window of opportunity is gone, but we will continue to have to make tough choices on how we fund our public facilities.”

South Alabama’s stadium is expected to cost between $70 and $80 million. USA had no immediate comment on the vote. “I’m wishing South Alabama well, I’m hopeful they will be able to do what they need to do when they need to do it,” city council member Gina Gregory told AL.com.