Each time that he steps on the field to return a kick, Florida junior Brandon James is a marked man. When you’ve returned four punts for scores during your career, including two this season, the attention goes with the territory.
Last week in a 63-5 win over Kentucky, Florida’s special teams came up big, as it blocked a pair of punts and a field goal. James didn’t get his usual touches with the ball in the return game, but he was more than happy with his team’s effort in the often overlooked phase of the game.
“Each week, we feel like special teams are going to be a big factor,” James said. “Look at last week with those two blocked punts, I mean the game was pretty much in the bag in the second quarter. Each week, we feel that we can win the game in that area, so we just have to bring our “A” game.”
James can beat teams in a variety of ways. He is the only player in the nation to score twice on punt returns, rush for a touchdown and catch a touchdown pass this season. He is also one of three players in the country to return two punts for scores.
The St. Augustine High product is currently tied for first on the NCAA Active Chart for career punt returm touchdowns and his 15.1 yard return average is also first. James is currently third on the NCAA Active Chart with 980 career punt return yards.
Against Ole Miss, he became Florida’s all-time leader in punt return yardage. There was no euphoria that day for James and the Gators in a 31-30 loss, but it did teach the team something.
“It woke us up a little bit,” James said. “It humbled us and let us know that we can be beaten and let us know that we have to be on our toes each week and bring our “A” game.”
This week, James and Florida will travel to Jacksonville to face SEC East rival Georgia. As a youngster in St. Johns County, there were many Saturdays in late October where James was glued to the TV to watch the battle between the Gators and Bulldogs.
“It’s really big,” James said. “I watched it growing up with it being in Jacksonville. The rivalry gets better each year. It’s a big game. [There are] lots of big hits and lots of big fast athletes. [Georgia] is a good team all-around.”
James said Florida is taking its same approach in getting ready for the Bulldogs on special teams.
“Each week is big, so I don’t think anything will be different this week,” James said. “We’re preparing the same and just trying to make plays as usual in the return game.”