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JMU coach no stranger to WVU, Mountain State

WHEN WEST VIRGINIA plays James Madison this Saturday, rest assured the Dukes' coach will be familiar with the Mountaineers.

He knows the program. He knows the coaches. He knows the state.

And all know Mickey Matthews, a former assistant for Jim Donnan at Marshall from 1990-95.

"My kids," Matthews said, "still call Huntington home."

As mentioned, he knows WVU's coaches - past and present.

"[Steve] Dunlap is a great friend," Matthews said. "And I know [Dana] Holgorsen. Hal Mumme and I worked together in Texas and [Holgorsen] is a Hal Mumme disciple. I know [ex-WVU assistant Bill] Kirelawich. I knew [ex-head coach] Rich Rodriguez when he was at Glenville. He'd come down and watch us at Marshall.

"Heck, West Virginia is just two mountains over [from Harrisonburg, Va.]."

Matthews also knows the Mountain State through tragedy. He last saw Dunlap and Kirelawich, for instance, at the wake of former WVU coach Bill Stewart.

"I went to the wake and saw Dunlap and Kirelawich there," Matthews said. "It was kind of hard on all of us. Bill was a great friend."

Matthews also has received support. See, the story of his son Clayton is perhaps the most touching in all of college sports. In August of 2003, Clayton Matthews improbably broke his neck twice in separate car accidents, leaving him paralyzed below the chest.

Today, however, the son, confined to a wheelchair, is his father's assistant coach for wide receivers and kickers. Clayton lives independently. He coaches with veracity. He recruits.

"His tongue ain't paralyzed," said the father.

After Clayton and his mother, Kay, were returning from a medical visit in Charlottesville, Va., and crashed in a rain storm, the family was devastated when Matthews broke his neck for the second time.

"But we probably received the most support from those in West Virginia," said the head coach.

Perhaps that's why his kids consider the state home. But this Saturday all will be trying to defeat the Mountaineers at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a suburb of Washington.

"It'll be great," Matthews said. "When I was approached about it, I figured it would be just like a home game. D.C. is JMU country. The problem is, I didn't realize the tickets would be $100 apiece.

"I thought we'd have 20,000 people there, but we won't because of the price."

Matthews laughed.

"I'd rather play there, though, because I didn't want to go to Morgantown."

Matthews said while WVU will get $2.3 million to play the game, his school is receiving $350,000.

"I thought it was a good deal," said the JMU coach. "But when I watched the Orange Bowl, I thought, 'Who in the world agreed to that game?' I didn't feel very smart."

Matthews is candid about the setup.

"WVU scheduled a victory," he said. "When they scheduled Marshall and JMU, they scheduled two wins.

"We think we have a good team, though. We're not going to back down. You don't have to tell our players who we're playing."

Understand JMU is not a pushover. The Dukes entered the weekend ranked No. 6 in the FCS coaches poll. In 2010 the team defeated Virginia Tech 21-16 in Blacksburg.

Some have suggested this might be a better test for No. 9 WVU than Marshall.

"I don't know," Matthews said. "Marshall had wholesale changes on defense. I like to think we're as good as Marshall. I don't know a lot about [Marshall's] personnel, but we recruit a lot against them."

One player WVU will have to focus on is JMU quarterback Justin Thorpe, who Matthews has called one of the nation's best.

"He's a good player," said the coach. "He can run and throw. Two years ago, he broke his leg. Last year, he was suspended for a while.

"Now, how he'll look on the same field as [WVU's] Geno Smith, I don't know. I don't know how Johnny Unitas would look on the same field as Geno Smith. But [Thorpe] believes he'll do well."

Matthews pointed to WVU's Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as the collective key.

"Those three offensive guys at WVU are the whole deal," Matthews said. "They might be the three best in college football. If Geno doesn't win the Heisman, he'll be in New York. And those other two will be carrying his suitcases."

Matthews knows. After all, he's just two mountains away.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/mitchvingle.


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