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Tracking the College Gridiron Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Thursday, August 26, 2004

By Sammy Batten

Swift recruit 'acts the part' on the field and off


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Belinda James named her son after a football player, but until last season she was afraid to let him play the sport in high school.

“My mom thought I was too small,’’ said Craig James. “She was probably right early on because I was only about 135 pounds in the ninth grade. I wound up playing in the park (recreation) league.

“But I decided last year I was ready to try it at the high school. So I came to her straight up and told her it was time for me to move on.’’

Belinda James relented and Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., gained a valuable new weapon.

Craig James, all 5-foot-10, 155 pounds of him, burst onto the competitive Jacksonville prep scene in impressive fashion. Playing running back on offense, James rushed for 710 yards on 72 carries and scored six touchdowns in his varsity debut. He also contributed eight receptions for 147 yards and three more scores.

Doubling as a defensive back, James also collected 28 tackles and interception two passes.

“I had seen him play a couple of park games and his team had won a national championship, so I knew what kind of talent he had,’’ Lee coach Randy Glass said. “It was just a matter of getting him out on our field.’’

What Glass and others in Jacksonville witnessed last season, the East Carolina coaching staff got a glimpse of while making their rounds of the spring football workouts in Florida. The Pirates were impressed enough by James that they invited him to their summer camp in July.

While in Greenville, James impressed the ECU staff enough to earn a scholarship offer.

“Everything was just so nice when I went to East Carolina,’’ James said. “I enjoyed the coaches a lot. They took me in as soon as I got there and treated me like a son. They weren’t promising me anything. They came straight up and I respected that.

“Coach (John) Thompson took me into his office and said he wanted to offer me a scholarship right then and there. I said I would take it.’’

James selected ECU over offers from The Citadel, Duke and Furman. Schools such as Georgia Tech, Florida and Florida State have continued to recruit James, according to Glass.

The pledge to ECU is solid, James said, but he’ll continue to listen to other schools.

“I’m committed to East Carolina and I really like the school,’’ James said. “But my mother told me if I find something better I can go somewhere else. But if you don’t, since you say East Carolina is that good, you can stick with that. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m committed, but I’m going along with what my mother says, which is to keep an open mind.’’

Belinda James, a former basketball player at Lee, had an open mind when trying to name her newborn son. According to Craig, his mother was struggling to come up with an appropriate name for him when former Southern Methodist and NFL running back Craig James flashed across a TV screen.

James, who teamed with Eric Dickerson in the famed “Pony Express’’ backfield at SMU, was playing for the NFL’s New England Patriots at the time. He now works as a TV analyst.

“I didn’t know this until recently, but I saw him on TV the other day and I asked my mom if she named me after him, and she actually did,’’ Craig James said. “When she was pregnant, he was playing and she couldn’t think of a good name. So she figured his last name was James and she liked the sound of his whole name.’’

The younger Craig James overcomes his lack of size with tremendous speed and agility. He was electronically timed this summer at 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the University of Florida’s football camp.

As a member of Lee’s track team last year, James posted best times of 48.4 in the 400-meter dash and 22.0 in the 200. He qualified for the regional meet, but an injury suffered there kept him from competing at the state level.

“He’s got legitimate burning speed,’’ Glass said. “You just can’t catch him once he gets into the open field. He does things on film that make you want to rewind it so you can see him do it again. He can cut on a dime. He’s just phenomenal.’’

The Pirates have talked to James about playing several roles in college.

“With my speed and hands, they think I’ll fit in best at a defensive back or wide receiver position,’’ James said. “And, of course, they want me to play on special teams.

“I’m a very versatile player. I try to do a lot.’’

Versatile is right. Not only is James an outstanding football player, but he’s a stellar student and budding thespian as well.

Glass said James carries a grade point average over 3.0 and he scored 960 on his first attempt at the SAT.

“But he wants take it over and shoot for more than 1,000,’’ Glass said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s never satisfied.’’

James has had big roles in several high school theatre productions. He played a nerdy son in a production called, “Louder, I Can’t Here You’’ as a junior.

“It was real funny,’’ James said. “Everybody liked it. That was my biggest role to date.

“We have another one coming up soon called 'Shop Til You Drop.’ I’ll play a geek in that one.’’

ECU’s school of theatre and music was one of the drawing cards for James.

“Theatre is something I enjoy,’’ James said. “East Carolina is a place I can enjoy that and football at the same time.’’

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02/23/2007 02:36:18 PM

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