St. Augustine Prep senior football player John Barillo would have liked to have known where he was going to play football in college earlier in the school year.

But he also wanted to leave his options open.

The 18-year-old Ventnor resident verbally committed to play at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., on Sunday. It will be official when he signs his national letter of intent on Wednesday, which is the first day that players can sign for fall sports.

"It took a lot of stress away," Barillo said by phone Wednesday night. "It took so long to figure out where I was going. But I did want to wait a little bit to see what my other options would be."

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back rushed 126 times for 417 yards and four touchdowns this season. He was a Press second-team All-Star. He also plays linebacker and defensive back, and he likely will play defense for James Madison.

Barillo's recruiting process began during his junior year. He was a member of the South Jersey Elite, an Egg Harbor Township-based team that competed in a New Level Badger Sport 7-on-7 National Championship Series. That event, which took place in Birmingham, Ala., is covered by the "Big Three" recruiting websites - Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN.com.

"When you look at his size and speed, it's something a lot of people take for granted," said Uriah McClain, one of South Jersey Elite's coaches and a 1998 Holy Spirit graduate. "As a defensive player, he's just as fast as you can get. He has underrated speed."

Barillo said James Madison wasn't one of the schools that noticed him in Birmingham, but its coaches found him anyway.

JMU secondary coach Mark Hendricks, a former Rowan University player from Deptford, came to the Prep at the end of Barillo's junior year and asked him to attend the Dukes' summer camp. Hendricks became Barillo's primary recruiter.

"It all went uphill from there," Barillo said.

The Dukes compete in the Colonial Athletic Association in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Series (formerly known as Division I-AA). James Madison went 8-5 last season and made it to the second round of the 16-team FCS playoffs before losing 26-14 to North Dakota State. The Dukes won the FCS national championship in 2004 under coach Mickey Matthews, who recently finished his 13th season.

Barillo's major is undecided for now, but he said he might go into sports management. He mostly is looking forward to taking football as far as he can go with it.

"I'm pretty confident that these coaches know what they are doing and they can make me the best player I can be," he said.

Barillo will be reunited with former Hermit Andrew Baumgardner, who graduated last year from the Prep. Barillo got to see Baumgardner, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound center from Longport, during a campus visit this past weekend.

He'll also play with Atlantic City High School graduate Leavander Jones, a wide receiver who will be a senior.

But they won't play on the same side of the ball. Barillo said that the coaching staff wants him to play defense.

"They feel that's where I'd excel the most and have a better impact at the next level," Barillo said. "I'm excited. It's still up in the air, though. Anything could happen. I could still play a little offense."

McClain said defense is where he belongs, though.

"I think he'd fit better on the defensive line as a rusher and someone who could get to the quarterback," McClain said. "At the end of the day, they have a nice football player who is really capable of developing into something special."

Contact Kelly Ashe:

609-272-7210