JMU's Abdullah on 'road less traveled'
(STATS) - Rarely must a day go by that somebody doesn't ask former James Madison running back Khalid Abdullah about the Dukes' historic win at North Dakota State last December.
"It was definitely one of the funnest games I've ever played in," he said about JMU ending the Bison's run of five straight FCS national titles.
One game later, the Dukes were sized to wear the national crown by defeating Youngstown State in the championship.
"I'll probably get old and gray and go back to that moment and want to put the pads on again," Abdullah added, "that time we won at North Dakota State."
Abdullah isn't ready to put the pads in hibernation - he wants to have an NFL career. None of the prospects from the national championship team have drawn serious consideration for next month's draft, so Dukes like Abdullah are trying to beat down NFL team doors the way they did at the Fargodome.
"I try not to dwell on things, but at the end of the day, of course I wanted to be in the Senior Bowl and at the (NFL) Combine and things," Abdullah said following James Madison's pro day on Wednesday.
"I'm willing to go out there and just try even harder and really push my brand and really show why I should be at the places that people feel like elite running backs are."
Cornerback Taylor Reynolds, linebacker Gage Steele and offensive lineman Mitchell Kirsch are among the other Dukes who figure to be in an NFL camp, whether with a late-round draft selection or on a free agent contract.
Perhaps none of them looked more like an NFL prospect than the night the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Abdullah rushed for 180 yards, had 51 receiving yards and scored a touchdown in JMU's 27-17 win over North Dakota State.
An invitation to any of the major postseason events didn't come Abdullah's way, however, so he is willing to take what he calls "the road less traveled." He's trained for the next level at 1STring Sports in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"If you didn't have the ability, you wouldn't be there, so it's not an ability issue," the native Virginian said. "I really think it's about retaining information fast because those plays are high-paced, they want to see how fast you can learn the plays and things like that. So just be able to go out there with a limited amount of repetition and do things correctly is something that you really have to focus on."
Abdullah has an excellent change of direction to make tacklers miss and a toughness going through the line of scrimmage, but he doesn't have blazing speed. He expressed disappointment in his 4.60-second time in the 40-yard dash at JMU's pro day, although it was run outdoors on a cold day. He said he expects to improve on the time if invited by NFL teams to private workouts.
What teams can see in Abdullah is potential. He shared carries in the JMU backfield for 3½ seasons, but running back Cardon Johnson was injured during Abdullah's senior season, and coach Mike Houston wisely increased Abdullah's workload. He carried the ball 298 times for 1,809 yards and 22 touchdowns - all highs in the FCS - and added three receiving touchdowns. The STATS FCS All-America second-team selection went on to earn the most outstanding player award in the national championship game.
He ended his career first in JMU history in rushing touchdowns (41), total touchdowns (45) and scoring (270), second in carries (673) and rushing yards (3,678), and fourth in all-purpose yards (4,077).
"I went from 900 yards (as a junior) to 1,700 or 1,800 yards, so they don't know if you're a one-hit wonder or not. I kind of understand those questions that scouts or teams might have," Abdullah said. "But at the end of the day, I think they just have to look at the carries I was sharing with other people and that also will be your answer for my production - why I didn't have as many yards the year before, things like that.
"Scouts really consider things. Anything they can nitpick, they're going to nitpick because they're making an investment. I definitely understand any questions they might have about me. I'm out there to prove them wrong, I'm out there to prove them right - either way."