Bob Chesney and JMU a Match Made in Recruiting Heaven

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Bob Chesney is a winner. Google him.

For nine consecutive seasons, he’s led his programs (Assumption and Holy Cross) to either first or second place conference finishes. Chesney enters his first year at JMU in 2024, with the Dukes coming off consecutive first-place finishes in the Sun Belt East. The Dukes are 65-10 in conference games over the last decade, one of the top marks in college football.

On the recruiting trail, JMU’s recent history coupled with Chesney’s high energy and on-field track record are a match made in heaven.

“The key selling point to me was Coach Chesney,” Kai Callen, a 2025 defensive back who verbally committed to JMU this week, told JMU Sports News. “Man, he’s a winner. I’ve been winning my whole life. Why would I go to a program that’s not winning? I love winners.”

Recruits Connect with Chesney

Jerald James, a defensive end who recently verbally committed to JMU over schools including Maryland, SMU, and West Virginia, loved his interaction with Chesney and the entire coaching staff. James says JMU “felt like home” during his official visit, with the Dukes’ coaching staff standing out compared to conference peers.

“At JMU, before I could even introduce myself, people were saying my name to me,” James, a member of the 2025 recruiting class, told JMU Sports News.

Callen summed up his interactions with Chesney simply.

“All I can say is I like him a lot,” Callen said.

Chesney’s recruiting prowess has paid off before he’s even coached a game at JMU.

The initial commits to the 2025 recruiting class all held numerous FBS offers, with linebacker Chris Fileppo holding offers from Purdue and West Virginia. James held several Power Five offers as well, but the Florida prospect connected better with Chesney and JMU than other coaching staffs.

It’s hard to accurately judge a recruiting class on paper – the Dukes have signed countless “low star recruits” over the last decade who turned out to be All-Conference players – and it’s months from Signing Day but Chesney is engaging recruits in a meaningful way.

Transfer Portal Haul

Arguably Chesney’s best recruiting work has come from the transfer portal, with JMU landing at least a dozen potential starters over the winter and spring portal seasons.

Part of the portal success for Chesney stems from the ease of selling JMU. The Dukes haven’t posted a losing record since 2002. They’ve won 10 or more games in five of the last eight seasons and play in a highly competitive conference with passionate fans.

“I don’t think [there’s] really too much of a recruiting pitch needed for a guy like me,” Howard transfer defensive back Ray Williams told JMU Sports News.

Williams was eager to compete at a higher level, and the Sun Belt has cemented itself as one of the strongest Group of Five conferences. With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams, the Group of Five holds playoff access this season. If JMU wins the Sun Belt, the Dukes will likely be in the mix to earn a spot in the playoff.

JMU is proving to be an easy sell for high-level FCS transfers.

“I came out to James Madison, and … you know how it is there,” Youngstown State transfer Chris Fitzgerald told JMU Sports News. “It’s a lot … I feel like they can take me to that next level.”

Fitzgerald was initially committed to Eastern Michigan, a 2023 bowl team from the MAC, but a visit to JMU made him quickly change his decision.

The Bob Chesney JMU era is in its infancy, but the new head coach is making an early impact on the recruiting trail, regularly securing commitments from coveted transfers and high schoolers in his first six months on the job.

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