Alonza Barnett Earns JMU’s Starting Quarterback Job

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications/Logan Weller

By Bennett Conlin

Alonza Barnett is JMU’s starting quarterback.

Curt Cignetti told the media Tuesday that JMU’s redshirt freshman has separated himself from transfers Jordan McCloud and Brett Griffis and returner Billy Atkins.

“Alonza has separated himself from the pack pretty significantly,” Cignetti said. “Always was a talented guy, it was just a matter of when everything would click.”

Cignetti said Barnett took the snaps with the first-team offense on the second day of fall camp and never looked back.

The Dukes will open their 2023 campaign with a budding superstar leading the charge.

“I have total confidence in Alonza, and the offense does too,” Cignetti said.

What does Barnett bring to the table?

We recently caught up with Barnett’s high school coach, Darryl Brown, to chat about Barnett’s ability. Brown praised Barnett’s leadership in our conversation. Multiple times Brown focused on Barnett being a “winner.”

The intangibles are there, but you don’t win JMU’s starting quarterback job just because you’re a good leader. Barnett has significant talent.

Brown talked about Grimsley High School’s best offense often coming when protection broke down in the pocket. Barnett is an adept scrambler who can create plays even when the offensive line struggles. That shouldn’t be a major issue in 2023 given JMU’s experience along the offensive line, as the entire starting unit from 2022 returns for 2023, but it’s a nice skill to possess.

We don’t know exactly what Barnett will look like for JMU, but based on his high-school film and comments from Brown, he’s a dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm and impressive scrambling ability.

In theory, the offense should look similar to how it was with Todd Centeio leading the way.

“He’s a confident guy,” Cignetti said. “Can be an elite athlete. Quick release, good arm, good head on his shoulders.”

JMU’s new QB1 has the potential (if a Power Five school doesn’t poach him) to go down as one of the best quarterbacks in program history. If he plays multiple seasons in Cignetti’s offense, the sky is the limit for Barnett.

Who’s QB2?

McCloud’s starting experience made him my favorite to win JMU’s QB1 job. He’s a good player who showed impressive flashes at both South Florida and Arizona. McCloud, like Barnett, does well scrambling outside the pocket.

Cignetti told the media McCloud would be the backup if the season started today.

“Jordan has the experience and he understands concepts, can make quick decisions,” Cignetti said.

It speaks highly of Barnett that he beat out McCloud.

Griffis, the Wake Forest transfer, had an impressive high school career. He lacks experience and reps, but holds plenty of potential. Cignetti said he progressed during camp.

Billy Atkins has more experience than Barnett and Griffis, but he wasn’t listed on the two-deep. Atkins struggled in game action in 2022, throwing four interceptions in a loss to Marshall when he filled in for an injured Centeio, but Cignetti praised his throwing talent Tuesday.

“Billy has always been, from an arm talent standpoint, as good as we’ve ever had in the program,” Cignetti said.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support this season!

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