St. Augustine High School has been among the top programs in the south. The Yellow Jackets have recorded an impressive 66-10 record over the past six seasons, including a perfect 15-0 mark and the school’s first state championship in 2005. Brandon James and Jacques Rickerson are two prominent reasons for their tremendous success. Now they’re making quite an impression on the Florida coaches.
Mark McLeod: At St Augustine High, Coach Wiles practiced you guys after a tough workout when you were tired. We talked last January about how practicing tired made you better ball club. Did that help you cope with the practice sessions at this level?
Jacques Rickerson: “The tempo that we practiced under at the high school level and the tempo that we’re running right now at practice is a change, but not that big a change. We weren’t as tired as other teams (in St. Augustine). We’re not as tired as others now. It helps us be a step above everybody.”
Brandon James: “Yeah, it’s been an adjustment, but not a big adjustment. The program I played at in at St. Augustine, we did some similar stuff.”
You’ve certainly had the opportunity to go against some pretty talented wide receivers in practice. Did you expect them to be this fast?
Jacques Rickerson: “All of them are really good because it helps me prepare for the Tennessee’s and Alabama’s how their wide receivers are Practicing against them is like playing in a game. It helps me to work on my techniques and the things that I’ll need to get ready for a game. I knew that it was going to be quick, but not that quick.”
Have the coaches provided feedback as to how you’re doing?
Jacques Rickerson: “They don’t really give us any feedback. They probably don’t want to mess our heads up. They just tell us good job on this or good job on that.”
What about areas of improvement?
Jacques Rickerson: “They’ve been telling me to work on my technique a little bit. I need to bulk up a little bit too.”
What has been the biggest surprise?
Jacques Rickerson: “The speed. I mean, linebackers and linemen are moving just about as fast as you are. I’m like, Whoa, that’s crazy.”
Brandon James: “Probably the speed and the playbook. I’m just trying to get better at it and work hard everyday. I think that I have a learning curve (with regards to the playbook), but I’m pretty comfortable right now. There are a lot of ways that I can get better with protection and blocking and things like that, but I’m pretty comfortable.”
All of the feedback from Coach Meyer about you has been very positive. Are you getting the same from Coach (Stan) Drayton?
Brandon James: “He’s telling me that I need to keep doing what I’m doing, working and everything will fall into place. Everyday at practice I try to come out and work hard and try to earn some respect.”
It’s no surprise to those of us who were able to get out and watch you play in St. Augustine, but you’ve really opened a lot of eyes here?
Brandon James: “That may be because of my size and the ratings coming out of high school. I know that some guys were rated higher than me. But, I didn’t try to let that bother me or anything. When we line up and put on the pads and everything, I know my abilities, and I’ll let that speak for itself and try to earn it.”
Florida hasn’t returned a kick for a touchdown since you were in middle school.
Brandon James: “We’re definitely going to have to break that streak this year and try to pop some returns and get the crowd into it. Coach Meyer really preaches special teams. He wants the special teams to be a big part of the game. We’ll try to make some nice returns, make some big plays and make a big turnaround in the game.”
How much of it is strategy and how much is instincts?
Brandon James: “Really, it’s just instinct. Going into the game they have a good scheme here. I’ve seen it. They set the play up and it should work as long as everyone does their job. I mean, it’s pretty much instinct, once you see the hole, you’ve just go to hit it and haul. (laughs)”