Barely five and a half feet tall, Brandon James electrified Gator fans last season as a return specialist. With quickness and vision, James provided the Gators with a real scoring threat, and he did find the end zone on one punt return, not to mention numerous long runs called back.
But this spring, James has a different goal in mind. He’s not just looking for a way onto the field through special teams like most freshmen do, but instead he has his sights set on the starting tailback position.
With DeShawn Wynn gone and none of the returning rushers standing out after last season, the backfield competition is wide open this spring. Kestahn Moore already has a handful of starts and may have the upper hand in winning the job, but not without a push from James.
“I definitely want to be lining up in the backfield,” James said. “I was recruited to play running back, but for my first year in order to get on the field, I helped the team out on special teams. But I definitely want to play running back and there’s no question about it.”
James drive and focus has turned him into one of Urban Meyer’s favorite players on and off the field. He may be the shortest player on the Gators’ spring roster, but James brings a professional attitude and a professional effort to practice each day.
“I’m just trying to get better everyday at running back, kick returns and everything,” James said. “I just want to get better as a football player. This is when the competition is, and me, myself, I just try to come out and compete and try to win the starting job.”
The competition in the backfield has heated up since spring practice began last week. In a competition day between the offense and defense on Wednsday, the offense had a tough day, but Chevon Walker had possibly his best day of practice as a Gator adding to the backfield competition.
“When someone has a good day it raises the level of competition,” James said. “But we expect that. We expect him to make big plays and do the things he did. When he does those things, we just look even more forward to seeing him continue those things.”
Walker falls third on the depth chart behind Moore and James, but what Walker did during Wednesday’s practice proved to James what is the greatest strength of the backfield.
“The depth,” he said. “We can go with K-Mo (Moore), I could play or Chevon. We have a lot of guys that can get it done. As long as we keep competing, we’ll find a way to get it done.”
Aside from Walker’s good day, sometimes it’s a frustrating day for the offense. After one play that saw James getting tackled for a loss, he took off his helmet and slammed it on the ground in frustration.
“In my opinion we didn’t come off the ball too well,” he said. “It was a tough day for us because we were trying to learn the plays a little better and we were trying to develop the running backs a little more.”
But after a disappointing day, James’ attitude and leadership still shined through.
“We’re fine,” he said. “Each day we come out and just try to get better. Today we did do better, but we have to compete better, that’s all. Every time I come out here, I just try to get my offense fired up and the backfield fired up and try to make some plays.”
Even though there’s competition between the running backs, James said it’s positive competition.
“It’s been competitive, but it’s been good because guys are learning from each other,” James said. “I’m learning from K-Mo, Mon is learning from me and I’m learning from Mon. It’s good competition, but we are helping each other.”
“We just remind each other of what we are here for. We’re here to play football and get a great education. Everyday when we wake up we just remind each other to let’s go and get it done today and try to get better while we’re out there on the field.”
James said blocking is his biggest area for improvement, but also said he needs to work on footwork and running with the ball. But again, he points to the level of competition he faces each practice as the driving force to get better.
“I’m just trying to be a better football player by the end of the day,” he said. “The competition comes with playing football at Florida. There are a lot of great football players around, and there’s going to be competition each day you step out on the field.”