Ben DiNucci will be James Madison’s starting quarterback, Dukes head coach Curt Cignetti announced on Tuesday.
DiNucci, a redshirt senior who is heading into his second season at JMU after transferring from Pittsburgh, beat out redshirt junior Cole Johnson and redshirt sophomore Gage Moloney for the starting job.
“[DiNucci has] done a good job. I have total confidence and trust in him,” Cignetti told reporters on Tuesday at Bridgeforth Stadium. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s impressed me. He has done a good job with his decision making.”
DiNucci started all 13 games for James Madison last season, leading the Dukes to a 9-4 record and the second round of the FCS playoffs. The Wexford, Pennsylvania native completed 211-of-309 passes for 2,275 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. He also rushed for 433 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.
Prior to coming to JMU, DiNucci spent three seasons at Pittsburgh, where he appeared in 12 games. He made six starts as a redshirt sophomore for the Panthers, completing 88-of-158 passes for 1,091 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Ben’s been a highly productive player,” Cignetti said. “He’s been a winner everywhere he’s been.”
Another thing that has stood out to Cignetti’s is DiNucci’s accuracy. Last season, he completed 68 percent of his passes and had a completion percentage of 70 percent or higher in six games, including a career-high 85.2% (23-of-27) in the season opener against FBS opponent N.C. State.
“He has had high productivity at the quarterback position and completed a high percentage of his passes last season,” Cignetti said.
Cignetti got an up-close look at DiNucci in game action last season when he was the head coach at Elon. Against Cignetti’s Phoenix, DiNucci completed 24-of-41 passes for a career-high 316 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 27-24 loss.
DiNucci will be backed up by Johnson, who appeared in four games for the Dukes last season but was still able to use a redshirt year due to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule.
The Virginia Beach native saw his most extensive action of the season against New Hampshire. After replacing DiNucci in the first quarter, Johnson completed 31-of-48 passes for 398 yards but was intercepted three times in a 35-24 loss.
“Cole’s got to be ready to go in the event of an injury,” Cignetti said.
With the quarterback position settled, the Dukes can shift their focus to the upcoming season, which will be filled with high expectations. JMU is ranked No. 2 in both the STATS FCS Poll and the preseason FCS Coaches Poll.
Cignetti said DiNucci won’t have too much asked of him as the Dukes pursue a national championship.
“The main thing is we are not asking the quarterback to carry the team on his shoulders,” Cignetti said. “We are going to have an offensive plan, a defensive plan and a special teams plan to win the game. ...We are not asking Ben to carry the team. We just want him to play quarterback for us, make good decisions and make the passes he should.”