The glitz and glamour of the quarterback position can consume even the most humble of athletes.
Under the Friday night lights, these leaders of the pack are the center of attention, yet often distant from the action. On passing plays, they stand in the pocket waiting, clean and untouched while bodies flail and fly around them. During rushes, they hand the ball off to another prepared for the trench, as they move from the play. They do not block, they do not tackle. They fake, they roll, they scurry, they scamper. They are the celebrities of the field, their own greatest show on turf.
After their battle, they sit with their often un-scuffed helmets, providing postgame interviews while lineman ice their knees and elbows.
For many quarterbacks, the above is a shameful reality. For Lions senior quarterback Chris James, the above is lunacy.
Unafraid to run, dive, sweat and bleed, James is the face of a blue and gold tradition not for his pretty face, but for his willingness to take the hit and keep pushing forward.
“He plays his position almost like a linebacker, not afraid to deliver the big hit or take one. He actually might even enjoy them,” junior wide receiver Mattan Hoffman said.
He is serious. He is level-headed. And as the season grows near, he and the rest of his team grow restless.
“It’s scary, the potential of what we can put out there offensively and defensively,” James said. “We are a hard-nosed team. We are going to punch you in the face sometimes, and we are going to get punched too. But it’s about how you rebound from a hit like that, and you can really tell what type of person someone is on the football field. You can tell what they have inside of them. Deep down, fourth quarter, last drive, you know who the gamers are.”
On the field, James is a gamer. In his fourth season at the helm, he has amassed more than 4,000 total yards from scrimmage (more than 700 rushing yards) and 31 touchdowns. He begins his final campaign within reach of both the College’s single season and career passing marks. Although James may soon be on the edge of school history, his concern, as it should be, is the team.
“This year it’s not just a team, we are part of a family,” James said. “We bleed and sweat together on a daily basis. And it’s those same guys who you will depend on next to you during a game. That’s trust right there. And that’s what we work on in the preseason to build that trust.”
James and the Lions began their training in the spring, working out twice a week at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, lifting kettle bells and flipping tires to increase the team’s explosiveness, James said.
After a summer break, the squad arrived to their home field on Aug. 14, fighting the heat through drill after drill.
“It’s a very strict camp but it allows people to learn to be mentally tough,” James said.
Senior wide receiver Cameron Richardson admires James’ on-field mentality.
“His mental makeup is a key for the offense. He can analyze situations on the field and react to them very quickly,” Richardson said. “And anytime I’ve seen him make a mistake, he remains unphased and doesn’t dwell on what’s going wrong. He’s always ready to make the next big play and constantly picks up his teammates when they’ve made mistakes too.”
The senior QB requires himself to exemplify a work ethic he wishes to see in his teammates, that winning spirit which never leaves him.
“Both in-season and offseason Chris is always working to become a better player,” Hoffman said. “Whether it is in the weight room, watching film, or just always giving 100 percent in practice; his love for the game is seen through the amount of work he puts in and that is all you can ask for in a teammate.”
Although none can question James’ ability to work hard, his drive to win alone has not always translate to wins, as the Lions were plagued with injuries last season and finished 4-6 overall and 4-5 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
He expects a stronger campaign this year, and although he loves the pressure it will bring, he understands it must be a team effort.
“It’s just not yourself out there, it’s about leading the guys around you,” he said. “It’s about the look in their eye, getting on people when they’re down, pumping them up when their happy, just staying at an even keel throughout the game. Stay as a team, win as a team, lose as a team. When one side is slacking, the other side has to pick it up.”
Like most leaders, James has his pregame rituals and superstitions. Prior to home games, a whole wheat bagel with two eggs from New York Bagel is tradition for the quarterback, along with a certain Sports Paradise shirt, cut off at the sleeves and worn under his uniform during each game of his collegiate career. Before each contest, James reviews his playbook, confirms details with lineman and receivers, listens to music and relaxes.
On the field, he has matured from a bruiser looking to lay a hit on the ground, to a poised general in the pocket.
“The biggest change that I’ve seen in Chris’s game over the past few years is his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike,” senior defensive back Ryan Flannery said. “He is a natural athlete so you know he is a good runner but now he looks to stand in the pocket and hit the open receiver.”
Returning senior receivers Richardson, Mark Gardner and Colin Weber have stood beside James for the last two seasons, and he feels more than comfortable for the upcoming season.
“They know what I am going to do before I do,” James said.
“To make a successful quarterback-receiver combo, I think it’s really important to be on the same page and for Chris and me, that’s never been a problem,” Richardson added. “Over the years here, we’ve been able to hone our skills together and have become very comfortable with each other’s play on the field.
That comfort and confidence that we have in each other has generated a lot of success on the field.”
Off the field, James is fun-loving socialite, engaging in video games and fast food with his friends.
“We live together off-campus with some of the guys from the team and it’s been a lot of fun. He’s always looking to have a good time and is never too serious about anything,” Richardson said. “Chris has a really likable personality; he’s very sociable and welcoming to others. I always enjoy myself whenever we’re hanging outside of football.”
“He is always there when you need something and does things out of the goodness of his heart,” Hoffman said. “It seems like he is always in a good mood and always there to pick somebody else up.”
Long before his days and nights at the College, James was a boy on the shores of Brick, NJ learning the game he would come to love.
“My grandma always says she thought I would be a good football player,” James said. “I used to go over her house; she lived two houses away from me. When I used to go over, I would bring my little notebook and draw football plays in it. I have always loved the Giants, ever since I was little, watching their Super Bowl tapes and stuff. I just always wanted to play football.”
James’ family has always supported his passion, with his parents and grandmother attending every game of his college career.
After this season, James looks to finish his health and exercise science degree, and look toward a career in law enforcement. He hopes to eventually get back to his first love though, and possibly coach football when he retires.
Once he walks away from his field, James hopes to leave a positive memory for classes to come.
“I want to be remembered that I gave it my all,” he said. “I’ve been with all of the rest of the seniors for four years and we have great memories together and I just want to say that we all busted our asses hard enough to come out on top and have a winning program. We just want to win.”
For now, James is focused on his final season at the College.
“These are my last ten games, or as many as it is, it’s my last,” he said. “So playing football ever since you were 5 years old playing flag football, its coming down to the end, and I’m excited for every single one.”