JACKSONVILLE — Outside Jacksonville State University, everyone calls him DaMarcus James. Inside the Gamecocks’ athletics department, nobody calls him by that name — instead, it’s “Heavy.”
There’s no doubting that James carries a heavy load for Jacksonville State’s football team.
He is weighed down with plenty of records, especially after a stellar 2013 season.
James led the Gamecocks with 1,477 rushing yards, setting the school’s single-season rushing record. He also scored 29 rushing touchdowns, a new Ohio Valley Conference record. To open the 2014 season, he sits third in school history with 35 career touchdowns, and second with 13 career 100-yard rushing performances.
“I think ‘Heavy’ brings everything to this offense,” Gamecocks head coach John Grass said. “He’s great in the run game, as we all know, and he’s really improved his pass protection. He continues to improve his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and running routes.
“He’s going to play every snap extremely hard … and every coach knows that. He continues to be consistent in his play.”
Even with the weighty accolades and recognition for his performances throughout last year, James said he wants only what is best for his teammates this season. This includes not setting any personal goals for himself, despite being chosen as a preseason All-American, preseason All-OVC Offensive player of the year, and placed on the Walter Payton Award Watch List.
“I just want to come together as a team and execute,” he said. “The goal for us as a team is go win a championship.”
While offensive coordinator last year, Grass installed an up-tempo offense, and even though James is listed as 220 pounds, he isn’t affected by the speed at which the offense is run or the amount of different signals flashed before each play.
“It took a little time to adjust to,” he said. “In high school we had the same kind of scheme, but it was a little bit slower than ours now.
“Once you get the hang of (all the signals), it’s kind of easy to understand what all the signals mean.”
One of James’ favorite things about the offense is lining up in the “Heavy Package,” which is when he is called upon to take a direct snap from the center). Last season, Grass ran plays out of this package when the Gamecocks were within 5 yards of the goal line. This package helped James to his record-setting touchdown total.
“Oh man, it feels good,” James said about lining up and taking the direct snap. “It feels like you’re the quarterback out there calling all the plays and stuff.
“Whenever they call it, I’m ready to go.”
Unlike fellow running back Troymaine Pope, who prefers to run around would-be tacklers, James’ running style could be described as bruising. If given the chance, he will lower his shoulder pads and run straight over potential tacklers. His ability to never go down on first contact, and breaking multiple tackles, is something he prides himself on the most.
“There’s a little motivation behind it,” James said. “As a running back, you never want to get tackled by the first guy, so you have to break that and move on to the next one.”
With his physical running style, James should prove to be a strong test for JSU’s foe in the season opener, Michigan State. Defense is what the Spartans are known for, and last season, they ranked third in FBS by allowing 13.2 points a game.
“I think his preparation for this season is more a mental and physical deal, just like it is with everyone else,” Grass said. “He challenges himself to get better every day at practice, and I don’t know see any complacency on how he’s approaching everything, so that’s a good thing.”