ORONO, Maine — Kendall James was moving a bit slowly Tuesday afternoon after taking a quick water break during football practice at the University of Maine.
James has endured his share of bumps and bruises as a three-year starter at cornerback for the Black Bears. But don’t let his perceived soreness fool you. Once the game begins, he gets the job done.
James will anchor the secondary Saturday afternoon when UMaine visits Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., for a 2 p.m. game against longtime rival Massachusetts.
“We’re excited,” said the fifth-year senior from Roselle, N.J. “There’s a lot of family coming and I know the defense is going to play well. It should be fun.”
James has been a fixture at corner since cracking the lineup in 2011. After redshirting as a freshman in 2009, he has played in 36 consecutive games.
That might help explain the aches and pains.
“When I have to sit still and watch things, I feel so stiff, but then when I get out there it’s like, OK, I’m back,” James said with a laugh.
“I’ve been blessed to see all the games so far. Knock on wood, I can finish off strong the rest of these,” he added.
The 6-foot, 177-pound player is among the fastest on the team. That enables him to keep up with opponents’ top wide receivers.
His speed and experience are critical because of his assignments in the secondary.
“The kid can run,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“He plays our ‘field’ corner, our cover guy, our out-in-space guy,” he added.
As such, James is usually on the wide side of the field, playing somebody one-on-one.
“That’s why we put our best player out there, because he’s got a lot of space to cover,” said UMaine defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro. “When he’s playing off [his man] and the ball’s thrown, he’s got to close and be able to make a tackle, or that guy’s running down the sideline.”
As a sophomore, James was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association third team after making 50 tackles with three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Last fall, he racked up 45 tackles with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
His coaches are quick to point out James also is a dependable tackler.
“I think the thing that’s really stood out is he’s developed a taste for the physical side of the game,” Cosgrove said. “He’s become much more talented as a run-support guy on the edge.”
That growth has been derived from added experience and hard work in the weight room. James arrived at UMaine at about 150 pounds.
“I didn’t have to do much tackling in high school,” said James, who chose UMaine over Stony Brook and also was recruited by Northern Iowa and Cornell.
His size was of concern to many recruiters during his career at Union County Academy of Information and Technology.
“They said I was too small,” James said. “I knew I was small, but I’ve always held my ground.”
His physical development began during his freshman season. Cosgrove pointed out players who redshirt generally are more productive once they get on the field later.
James struggled at the time with not playing, but relied on some fellow New Jersey teammates, including Troy Eastman, to help him get through.
James has become a prototype of sorts for Black Bear cornerbacks.
“If we’re out recruiting, we’re looking for Kendall James,” Ferraro said. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the quickness, and he’s as good a tackler as I’ve been around at that position.”
James also has shown a flair for the dramatic, ripping off a 100-plus-yard interception return for a touchdown last season at Bryant.
Despite seeing full-time duty at corner, James is become a key member of UMaine’s kickoff and punt teams. In last week’s opener at Norfolk State, James dropped a returner in his tracks at the 5-yard line after a 58-yard punt by Jeff Ondish.
“He’s done a really good job for us the last couple years on special teams in some key areas on kickoffs and as a gunner on punt team,” Cosgrove said.
James, the son of Leslie James and Patricia Ryans-James, said he got his speed from his mother. He credits his father with providing important guidance and coaching during his youth, especially in basketball.
“He was hard on me, but he definitely helped me out a lot,” James said.
James, a three-year starter at point guard in high school who earned all-county defensive honors, spent time this summer working UMaine’s basketball camps.
He started playing football early, but his confidence and career were derailed three or four years after he suffered a broken leg as a third-grader.
James said one of his younger sisters, Kaprice, who is a sophomore sprinter and hurdler at Rutgers, is probably the best athlete in the family.
James graduated from UMaine last spring with a degree in business administration (management). He is in graduate school and hopes one day to become an athletic administrator at the high school or college level.
“Right now, I’m just focused on football,” he said.