By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — What a difference a few months can make.
Kali James will be the first to testify to the validity of that statement after the rising senior Jonesboro defensive tackle went to Buies Creek, NC, home of Campbell University, for a visit Saturday.
Campbell head football coach Mike Minter liked James so much they offered him a scholarship.
James liked Campbell and Minter so much, he committed right on the spot. And so seemingly ends the recruiting saga of where one of the Southern Crescent’s top — and, due to being undersized, perhaps most underrated — DTs will spend his college playing days.
“It’s just a blessing, you know,” James said via cell phone while riding back from Campbell. “They took a chance on me, and basically I’m just going to go with it. Coach Mike Minter, his spirit and what he brings, they have three players on NFL watch lists. They graduate over 90 percent. Defensive line coach, Coach Adams, I really like. The area that it’s in, it’s just great.
“They gave me a chance without measurements.”
James checks in as a 5-foot-10, 270-pound nose tackle who makes up for his slight stature with speedy feet and quick hands. His fundamentals for the position are considered among the best anywhere in Georgia. And now it’s Campbell who will soon get the chance to see for itself.
James said he chose the Fighting Camels — a Division I program that competes in the Pioneer Football League conference — in part because of Minter’s ability to understand James’ struggle with size first hand.
“Coach Mike Minter went through the same thing I went through, except he went through it in the pros,” James said. “He was undersized as well. But he knows how from that perspective, to help make everybody on the team better.”
Despite Minter’s somewhat diminutive nature as far as safeties go, the Lawton, Okla. native carved out a stellar career both in college where he helped the Nebraska Cornhuskers become the first Div. I team in 40 years to win back-to-back national championships in the mid 1990s before going on to an nine year career with the Carolina Panthers.
Minter will enter his third year at the school and is coming off a 5-7 overall record and a 4-4 mark in Pioneer League play.
James said that in addition to his future coach’s ability to relate to his size concerns, he was impressed with what Minter brought to his football program from a spiritual aspect.
“The way he was talking about the Lord and God and stuff, basically it’s just him bringing great vibes and a positive spirit to the team,” he said.
James was also impressed with the fact that his visit made it seem as if he were just coming back home, instead of breaking in to a new place.
“Everybody knew who I was like I played there,” said James, who chose the school over Avila (Missouri) University and Tuskegee.
And although it was the lack of recruiting attention that was hugely responsible for James lit fire on the football field, James assured that no increase of fuel would be needed to keep his competitive flames properly stoked.
“Oh, I don’t really take me committing as something big that’s going to make me change,” he said. “I’m still me. I’m coming back from North Carolina now, and I might work out tonight. I’m not gonna switch up on nothing. I’m still the same. Actually me committing is just going to make me work even harder.”
That’s because now James can more succinctly focus on his quickly approaching senior season, and the marquee games on Jonesboro’s 2015 schedule, and James talked as if he’d already been in film sessions and studying scouting reports on his first two opponents.
“(Committing) is a big time weight off of my shoulders,” he said. “It’s time to go back to work,” he said. “August 21st against Mount Zion. It’s coming fast. We know Mount Zion’s got a lot of good young talent this year, so it should be good.”
As for that little matchup the following week against a certain school from Tyrone, Ga.?
“Sandy Creek? Yeah, we got that game squared, circled. All of that,” James said. “That’s going to be a big one. Really each and every day and game, we still keep working. I think we can have a good season this year. We’re ready. Now we’re focused. We’re locked in. It’s time”