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Towson prepares to face James Madison's National Player of the Year candidate, Vad Lee

James Madison quarterback Vad Lee (2) fires a pass under mounting Albany pressure during the first half.
James Madison quarterback Vad Lee (2) fires a pass under mounting Albany pressure during the first half. (Daniel Lin / Associated Press)

Towson is slated to tangle with five National Player of the Year candidates from the Colonial Athletic Association at the Football Championship Subdivision level, and the first one stepping up to the challenge is James Madison quarterback Vad Lee.

The senior, who is the most dangerous player on the No. 5 Dukes (5-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference), ranks fifth in the country in passing yards (1,420), is tied for ninth in passing touchdowns (12) and 14th in passing efficiency (158.4). Trying to knock Lee off his game is the goal of every defense, but no one has been successful yet.

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"There's a reason why guys like he and Mr. [John Robertson, a senior] at Villanova and [Cooper Kupp, a junior] out in Eastern Washington, that these guys are the guys [for] National Player of the Year," Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said Monday. "They don't get fazed. They just don't. They take the hits and they keep coming and they keep playing their game. They're incredibly tough, all of them, and he's probably the most well-rounded of all of them right now. He's one of the most impressive college football players I've ever seen."

As prolific as Lee is at throwing the ball, the Georgia Tech transfer is just as potent running with it. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Lee ranks fifth in the nation in rushing yards (594) and fourth in yards per carry (7.9) and is tied for 17th in rushing touchdowns (five). His versatility presents a dilemma for the Tigers (2-2, 0-1).

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"You say, 'Keep him in the pocket and let him throw the ball,' but he's incredibly efficient throwing the football," Ambrose said. "You can say, 'Let him run around a bit,' but then he's as good – if not better – than any tailback in the league."

James Madison coach Everett Withers, a former assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, compared Lee's athleticism and ability to impact a game to the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller. But even Withers admitted that he's somewhat surprised by Lee's numbers thus far.

"I don't know if I expected all of the yards rushing and passing," Withers said. "I know he would be a perfect fit for what we wanted to do in our offense. We felt like once he got his feet up under him in the passing game, he'd be a natural in the run game, obviously coming from Georgia Tech. So he's progressed extremely well as a quarterback as far as reading defenses and learning progression and knowing where to go with the ball. I think he's continuing to grow in that as the weeks go by."

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