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James is a Blazer

Quarterback Chris James rolls out to pass for the Gilmer Bobcats last season. The 2015 GHS graduate will attend Valdosta State University beginning this fall and play football for the Blazers. (Photo by Robbie Bills)
James blazes trail south

by Robbie Bills

Chris James spent two seasons as the Gilmer Bobcats starting quarterback and will attempt to do the same for the Valdosta State University Blazers over the next four.

“It’s a huge honor,” James said of his chance to play college football. “I wanted to compete at the highest level possible and I think Valdosta is a great opportunity for that. I love the area. It feels like home and never gets cold there. I just like the winning tradition.”

Valdosta competes in Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association as a member of the Gulf Coast Conference. In 31 seasons, the Blazers have won 68 percent of their games and captured the Division II national championship in 2004, 2007 and 2012.
Football dreams come early

James started playing football when he was five years old and always thought about playing the sport in college. Once at GHS, he committed to the idea.    

“It wasn’t until after my freshman year that I really started to get into it and take notice that if I worked I could make it happen,” James said.

He took steps to aid his desire when he began attending summer camps. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, he made his way to fundamental camps to improve aspects such as his throwing motion, body position and footwork. In the summer prior to his senior season, he attended camps and showcases to gain exposure and land on the radars of college recruiters.

“The summer camps were awesome,” James said. “There are tons of great athletes there and great competition. If I could give advice to upcoming players, I would say ‘Go to as many camps as possible.’ It’s something they’ll never get to do again and it’s just great competition that will only help them out.”

James’ competitive fire was rekindled during his junior season when he lost and regained his starting spot. GHS began the season 3-0 before James was injured in a week four loss to Dalton. Thaddeus Bowers took over the quarterbacking duties and led GHS to four straight wins. In week nine, James got another chance when the Bobcats found themselves down by seven points to undefeated Cedartown with less than two minutes on the clock.

“I think it made me the player I am today,” James said of his junior season. “Going through that will definitely help in college because you’re battling with four other guys just as good if not better every single day. Getting hurt and sitting out and watching Thaddeus take over as quarterback really helped me to learn how to compete every single day. Once I got my opportunity, I just made the best of it.”

James led GHS 81 yards downfield versus Cedartown with 1:52 left on the clock. He completed two passes for fourth down conversions, accounted for 59 passing yards, 21 rushing and scored the game-tying touchdown. Gilmer later secured the 38-35 victory with a Manny Lopez field goal as the clock ticked under five seconds.

The Bobcats ended the regular season with a loss to Dalton in the region championship. They defeated Troup County in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs before a loss to Marist in the second round. Gilmer finished with a 9-3 overall record and posted an 8-3 record in 2014 with James at the helm leading GHS to another playoff appearance.

James played in 19 games during his time as a Bobcat. He missed nearly five game games as a junior and completed 43 of 102 passes for 694 yards and three touchdowns. During his senior season, he completed 92 of 197 for 1,383 yards and 17 touchdowns in Gilmer’s wing-T attack. He also rushed for 503 yards and four scores on 107 attempts in 2014.

James cited the victory over Northwest Whitfield last season as the top memory of his Gilmer football career. A thunderstorm delayed the game for more than an hour and GHS led by 12 in the second half before the Bruins pulled ahead 30-26 with a quarter to play. James led a game winning-drive that covered 72 yards and began with 3:53 on the clock.

James completed three passes on the drive for 23 yards and his final throw found Garret Rigdon in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.

Recruiting and heading south

James said he was recruited by “five or six schools” during his senior season at GHS and received scholarship offers from Hutchinson Community College and Valdosta. He made a verbal pledge to Hutchinson, but had a change of heart as interest from Valdosta increased.

“I was recruited by some bigger schools earlier in the summer going into my senior year, but that kind of died down,” James said. “There was this quarterback coach I met at a camp. When he got a job at Valdosta, that’s when they started to show more interest in me.”

He added, “When I committed to Hutchinson at first, I was on the phone with a coach from Valdosta for three hours that night. They wanted me bad and that meant a lot to me so I committed to them.”

Aside from gaining exposure at summer camps, James said he had to take a proactive approach to grab the attention of college coaches.

“All of the colleges that I came in contact with,” he began, “I had to contact them because they have no clue where Gilmer is. At first, I couldn’t get anyone to look at me (in 2013) because I didn’t have a bunch of film. After my junior year came around I had some schools come calling. After that, a couple more during my senior year. It was pretty stressful overall just trying to get schools to take notice.”

James plans to study education and eyes a future career as a football coach. He would like to begin as a graduate assistant in the college ranks while earning a master’s degree. If college prospects do not pan out, he will use his education path to work at the high school level.

James was the only quarterback Valdosta signed this spring and he believes he has a chance to snag the starting spot.

“Their senior starter just graduated so I’m looking to come in there, and if I can learn the playbook, start right away,” he said. “I definitely have a chance to compete for the starting job. They run a spread based offense. They still pass a lot but they like to have a good running game, too. They have some good senior running backs coming up that are going to be real solid.”

Valdosta posted a 10-3 record last season and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs under head coach David Dean. Since taking over the program in 2007, he has led the Blazers to a 70-24 record.

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