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JAMES MADISON MOVES ON FROM TOUGH SEASON

The James Madison football team would like to forget 2008.

The Knights went 0-9, losing by 30 or more points five times. They didn’t just take beatings on the field, either. Opponents, fans -- even classmates -- rubbed it in, comparing their losing to the Brooklyn school’s successful baseball, softball and boys soccer teams, all of them division winners.

“You guys always lose,” junior quarterback Kevin Francis said he heard on a daily basis.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound signalcaller is one of the reasons the Knights are hoping to turn those jeers into cheers.

A speedster with a strong arm, Francis will run coach Thomas Mobilia’s option offense. He led the Madison JV to a 6-2 record as a freshman, but saw only part-time duty at wide receiver last fall. The graduation of last year’s starting QB, Jesse Banham, opened up a spot for Francis, who has impressed in summer workouts.

“He’ll really help on third-and-short situations,” said senior running back/cornerback David Fung, who teamed with Francis two years ago on the JV.

Fung, Roger Hamilton and Daniel Grant Jr. round out an all-senior backfield that, if given enough running room by an inexperienced offensive line, could wreak havoc for opposing defenses.

Line play is Mobilia’s greatest worry. It was the team’s signature weakness last year, in terms of experience and size, and it hasn’t necessarily improved in that area.

Mobilia said he is playing musical chairs with his two lines. The only starter from last year is senior Peter Porcelli, an undersized offensive tackle and defensive end. Senior center Steven Petrov and senior offensive guard Luigi Michel are the other constants.

“I feel we have excellent skilled positions players, but as far as offensive line, defensive line, we’re not up to par,” Mobilia said. “We’re waiting on them.”

Despite that uncertainty, Madison players say this group is different than it was a year ago, particularly when it comes to conditioning. The core of Francis, Hamilton, Fung, Grant and senior defensive back Nashaun Turner all ran track & field in the offseason and attended the Big Apple Games this summer for football and track. The linemen hit the weight room with a fervor that was previously lacking.

The start of school isn’t until Sept. 8, compared to Aug. 27 last year, so the team has more time together, even if the season starts Sept. 5 at Campus Magnet.

“They’re enthusiastic and they’re working hard, it’s just they have to believe in themselves,” Mobilia said, “believe in their teammates [that] they can get it done.”

Building confidence, Mobilia said, is one team tenet he has harped on. The sixth-year coach hasn’t ignored last year’s winless campaign -- if anything, he has used it as motivation -- but also stressed getting off to a quick start. He doesn’t necessarily have to hammer that home; the Knights are desperate to erase the empty feeling last year left in the pit of their stomach.

“We got to get the monkey off our backs,” said Hamilton, who rushed for 226 yards and a touchdown as a junior.

Madison lost its last two games of 2007, also. So the streak is 11 in a row, dating to a 22-14 victory over Thomas Jefferson on Oct. 27, 2006. That the opener is against Campus Magnet, which beat Madison, 36-6, to start last season, adds even more ammunition.

“We got only one place to go,” Fung said, “and that’s to the top.”

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