|Even at 5-6, James stands out at Florida|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 25 September 2007 10:06|
James was arrested on marijuana possession charges in June and eventually sentenced to six months' probation and community service. He also was suspended for Florida's season opener.
In the three games since, he's been one of the primary playmakers for the fourth-ranked Gators.
The 5-foot-6, 181-pound sophomore ranks third in the nation in punt returns, averaging 24.6 yards with one touchdown, and ninth in kickoff returns at 32.2 yards.
``Brandon James is an electric player,'' linebacker Dustin Doe said. ``Every time he gets the ball in his hands, you just have to hold your breath. He's just a creative player. When he gets the ball, it's like an artist putting his pen on the pad - you just never know what you're going to get.''
Everyone has an idea now, after watching the smallest player on the field provide some of Florida's biggest plays. He even leads the team with 502 all-purpose yards, more than quarterback Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin.
James opened last week's game at Mississippi with a 55-yard kickoff return that set up a field goal attempt. He also gained 21 yards on two carries and had a 13-yard reception that set up a touchdown. He made two players miss after the short catch - a move that got coach Urban Meyer's attention.
It also may have earned James more playing time with the offense when the Gators (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) host Auburn (2-2, 0-1) Saturday night.
``Brandon James will be more involved,'' Meyer vowed.
James wondered whether he would even play for Florida again following his arrest. He and former Gators basketball player Brandon Powell were arrested after trying to buy marijuana from a police informant. They were charged with possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.
It was a misdemeanor charge, but a major setback for James.
``I let myself down, my teammates, my family and the whole University of Florida,'' James said. ``I felt like I let a lot of people down. I tried to come back and start off on the right foot and get it going again.
``I've learned about watching the guys I'm around, watching my surroundings and choosing my friends more wisely and putting myself in better situations. Coach Meyer was tough on me, but he also kind of took me in and said we're going to get through it, we're going to fight through it.''
As part of James' penance, running backs coach Stan Drayton took him to the Union County Correctional Institution. Drayton wanted James to see where he could end up if he didn't straighten out.
James also visited seriously and terminally ill patients at local hospitals to gain an appreciation for all that he has.
He has stayed out of trouble since.
``He responded like I thought he would,'' Meyer said. ``Brandon's a good guy. It was just a very stupid mistake. I was hard on him, about as hard I've ever been on a guy because I was crushed. I didn't think he would do something like that.''
Now, though, James is doing exactly what Florida expected.
He totaled 159 yards in returns against Troy, including a career-best 59-yarder that set up a touchdown. He was even better the following week against Tennessee.
He returned the first punt 83 yards for a touchdown, making two defenders miss and then outrunning everyone else. He finished with 193 yards in returns in the 59-20 drubbing.
``I'm not sure I would kick too many to him,'' Meyer said. ``He's got a little bit of confidence going.''