High school workhorse Jude blossoming into college star at EKU

Eastern Kentucky's J.J. Jude scored four touchdowns against host Morehead State, running for 195 yards. Photo gallery at
Eastern Kentucky's J.J. Jude scored four touchdowns against host Morehead State, running for 195 yards. Photo gallery at Herald-Leader

What a week this has been for J.J. Jude.

Having rushed for 195 yards and four touchdowns Saturday in a 56-24 win at Morehead State, Jude earned Newcomer of the Week honors in the Ohio Valley Conference and The Sports Network's FCS Co-Freshman of the Week.

The 195 yards are an OVC season best and the four rushing touchdowns tie the EKU record set by Mark Dunn in 2005 against Southeast Missouri.

A redshirt freshman, Jude is no stranger to notoriety. He twice was an undefeated high school state champion in wrestling, and finished his career at Johnson Central as the all-time leading rusher in the commonwealth (8,633 yards). Still, the attention received this week caught him off guard.

"It's kind of surreal, to be honest," Jude said Wednesday. "I know all the stuff that happened in high school, but it's like that was a whole season and this was just one game."

A 5-foot-9, 191-pounder, Jude totaled 19 carries in EKU's first three games. Then came his 33-carry effort at Morehead.

"I had no clue," Jude said when asked if he knew he would be getting the ball that much. "Coach Damron (Dane, EKU's offensive coordinator) came up to me — it was probably like two minutes before the game started — and he was like 'are you ready to carry the ball tonight?'

"'Of course. Yes, sir.' I didn't expect 33 carries, that's for sure."

Through three games, EKU relied on a four-back stable of Jude, Caleb Watkins, Jared Sanders and Thomas Owens.

Dean Hood, head coach of the Colonels, says Jude will start Saturday at No. 8 Eastern Illinois in the OVC opener for both teams. Beyond that, though, there are no promises.

"We got him in there (at Morehead), just kind of felt like we needed a little more physicality in the running game," Hood said. Jude continued to produce, so Hood stuck with him.

"But it could be Caleb Watkins this week that goes in and then he's hot, he's running good, (we) keep giving him the ball," Hood said. "It was a thing where we wanted to start with (Jude) for a reason, but stayed with him for a reason, too. He was running hard. He was making guys miss."

James Russell Jude III, aka J.J., thinks his wrestling background helps him weave his way through defenders.

"When you're on the mat, it's all about balance and leverage and taking advantage of positioning," he said. "So if you can kind of translate that onto the football field, it makes it a whole lot more effortless."

Jude says he's fine with sharing duties, too.

"We have four great running backs so, on any given day one of us is clicking, it's just however we're playing that game. That's who's going to get the carries.

"All the glory that I receive is all to God and to my family and my coaches. I'm blessed to be in this institution because Coach Hood puts trust in me, and I'm going to give them everything I've got. I bleed maroon now."

■ At Eastern Illinois (3-1), EKU (2-2) will be looking for its first win over a top-10 FCS school since beating No. 2 Jacksonville State in 2010.

Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has won three consecutive OVC Offensive Player of the Week awards, having thrown for 450 yards and six touchdowns last week in a 43-39 loss at Northern Illinois. With 85 career passing TDs, Garoppolo is tied with Tony Romo for the school and OVC record. He leads all Division I players this season with 1,731 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.

Either EKU or Eastern Illinois has won or shared the OVC title in seven of the last eight years.


Eastern Kentucky at Eastern Illinois

When: 2:30 p.m. EDT

Records: Eastern Kentucky 2-2 (0-0 OVC); Eastern Illinois 3-1 (0-0)

TV (online): ESPN3