One of his best friends is offensive lineman
But what really made James want to become a member of the Dolphins was his pre-draft visit to South Florida.
“I didn’t want to leave,” James said Friday afternoon when he met the South Florida media in a press conference at the Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. “I wanted to be a part of this team. My prayers were answered last night.
“I had several visits, but during this whole process I had in my mind I was going to the place I’m supposed to be. And this feels right. I’m glad to be here and I’m supposed to be here.”
And what was it that sold James on the prospects of becoming a member of the Miami Dolphins?
“The interaction I had with this whole coaching staff and everybody in the organization throughout this whole process. Just feeling the right atmosphere. Getting to talk to Dallas Thomas, a former teammate, and how he feels about everybody, it just felt like a great fit.”
Along with being teammates at Tennessee, James and Thomas were classmates this spring — in karate.
James explained that the situation came about because he already had graduated in December with a degree in Arts and Sciences.
“There weren’t a lot of classes for me to take, they put us in this karate class,” James said. “They said it was going to help with our hands and things like that, with football.”
James’ friendship with Thomas might be put to the test — but not really — when it comes time for James to get his first jersey number. He wore 70 at Tennessee and it’s also part of his Twitter handle; it also happens to be the number Thomas wore as a rookie last season.
The Dolphins selected James with the 19th overall selection on Thursday night after he started all of his 49 games at Tennessee.
James attended Tennessee after starring in high school in Suwanee, Ga., where he had moved from New Jersey while in seventh grade. James had been a basketball player in New Jersey, and who knows what might have happened if not for the move to the South.
“I was always a bigger kid and everybody said, man, you need to play football. That’s a big thing in the South,” James said. “Started off as a tight end. Then my high school coach, he told me, you could be maybe a D-II or a non-scholarship player, but I feel like you could be a really good offensive lineman. He definitely was right.”
Basketball played a role in James’ first name because it seems his mother liked the first name of longtime NBA player and former Fab Five member Juwan Howard. She did, however, want her son’s name to have its own spelling.
James said with a smile he considered himself a “good basketball player.”
Obviously, he’s a very good football player.
It takes durability to start 49 consecutive games, but it also takes ability when that streak happens in the SEC and the school goes through three different coaching staffs.
“It’s a blessing for me being able to stay healthy that long, be consistent enough,” James said. “I had several different coaches during that time. For me to keep proving myself to them and showing them the consistency of me having that position, it helped during this process. I feel like it’s going to help transition to this next level having that experience.”
It was after his freshman year in college that James began thinking the NFL was a real possibility.
“That’s when I think the switch really flipped,” James said. “Talking to my coaches, them telling me I have the tools and the work ethic, I’ve just got to maximize it. I’ve got to get the most out of it. I appreciate all the coaches I’ve had to get to this point.”
The high point for James came Thursday night when he got the phone call from the Dolphins. It was such an exciting time for James that he never went to sleep before flying to South Florida to make his first appearance as a member of the Dolphins.
James isn’t very familiar with South Florida, but isn’t nearly as concerned with sightseeing as continuing to progress as a football player.
“It’s a nice area, but I’m down here to work,” James said. “It’s my first job. I’ve got to come prepared and I can’t let all those distractions distract me. I just want to come in here and contribute.
“I don’t expect anything. I expect to come in and work hard and earn what I’m given. I’ve got to go earn it. That’s how I was raised my whole life. You’ve got to earn what you get.”