James is a Blazer
James blazes trail south
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)
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
“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
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
“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
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