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Former Jonesboro Cardinal Kali James sees himself in ELCA’s Charis Spence

McDONUGH, Ga. — Before making the biggest of his five sacks in a shutout win against Class 5A power Woodward Academy Friday night, Eagle’s Landing Christian defensive end Charis Spence ran over to his defensive line coach for a quick conversation. 

ELCA senior defensive end Charis Spence (44) celebrates with defensive lineman Bryson Estes (77) after one of Spence’s five sacks in Friday night’s 14-0 win over Woodward Academy. | PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall

For those of you well versed in Southern Crescent football, that coach’s name may ring a bell. 

Kali James. The former Jonesboro Cardinal who carved out a reputation for being one of the hardest working, highest motor-having defensive linemen in the state, even though he stood maybe 5-foot-9, although by the time he was a senior in college, he was listed as a 5-foot-11, 275-pound defensive end. 

After James completed a solid high school career at Jonesboro—which included a senior season where he recorded 13 sacks and gained first-team All-AJC honors and multiple other first-team all-state accolades—he signed to Tuskeegee where he carved out a respectable career. 

Now he’s pacing the sidelines as a defensive line coach at ELCA. And now, the conversation with Spence. 

It came late in a fourth quarter drive where Woodward had the ball, down 7-0 but putting together a decent drive in an attempt to tie the score. And it was short—two words to be exact. 

“I just told him, ‘Attack Drill,’” James said. “It’s a four quarter conditioning drill we do after practice and we feel it sets us apart from the opposition.”

Former Jonesboro standout defensive tackle, Kali James, now coaches defensive linemen at ELCA. | PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall

Spence darted back to the line, and when Woodward’s Banks Snelling caught the shotgun snap, he blew by the tackle and met Snelling in the backfield, wrapped him up and dragged him down to the turf. It turned a promising second down play into a third-and-long. And not long after, ELCA’s Peter Simmons snagged an interception and outraced Woodward’s defense toward the end zone to put the game out of reach. 

Arguably nobody was more excited about that defensive sequence than the fresh-out-of-college James. That’s because watching Spence have his big night caused him to see a lot of himself in the Chargers senior. 

“He’s definitely faster than me,” James said with a laugh. “But he’s relentless. And his will to get after the ball definitely reminds me of myself.” 

Kali James enjoys National Signing Day festivities in 2016 after signing to Tuskegee. | PHOTO: Hakim Wright

ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess called the 6-foot-1, 193-pound senior “unblockable” after his Friday night performance. Spence finished with nine total tackles, including one for loss, to go along with his five sacks. Gess said that Friday night’s performance was indicative of what he and the rest of the coaching staff expects from Spence. 

The Chargers (1-0) will host Hertigage-Newnan (0-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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Gabriel Stovall

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