Mike James arrived at the University of Miami as a running back with a smile so radiant, an attitude so positive and a work ethic so unflinching that his teammates couldn’t help but be drawn to him.
That he has endured excruciating heartache in his four-year journey and come through it with those same attributes speaks to the character of the man he has become in his 21 years — and the woman who brought him into the world and raised him.
Elgusta James was 47 years old on Dec. 20, 2010, when she was ejected from the front passenger seat of a Ford Explorer that had been struck in the rear of the driver’s side by a Toyota Corolla. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mike’s older sister Jasmine — the driver — was pregnant. Jasmine broke her arm and sustained a neck injury. Her then-5-year-old son Jayden — Mike’s nephew — broke his jaw in three places and was in a coma-induced state for five days before making what doctors told Jasmine was a “miraculous” recovery.
Jasmine’s unborn baby, Lauren Elgusta Ansley, is now a healthy 1-year-old.
Elgusta James was a football junkie and devoted mother who would drive with Jasmine to every one of Mike’s games, no matter how far, then by Monday be back at work as a site manager for an after-school program. She watched and played and talked football constantly with her son, who has spent the past 20 months getting through his loss day by day.
Their father “was in and out of our lives, so you could say we were raised by a single parent,” said Jasmine James Ansley, 27, who teaches math at James’ alma mater, Ridge Community High in Haines City. “She did an excellent job. Looking back on some of the things we’ve gone through, remembering conversations, seeing pictures and holding little artifacts, finding books she wrote our names in and songs we wrote together, it’s almost hard to put into words.
“But I know she made us strong individuals, and now we realize how well she prepared us. I honestly didn’t know if Mike would be able to stick it out this long, but he’s been as strong as I could have ever imagined.”
James the football player, who will begin his senior season Saturday at Boston College, would love nothing more than to end his four years with the Hurricanes as successfully as James the man. Though he is as much a team player as anyone who wears the green and orange, James would savor the opportunity to break out as an individual and make it to the NFL. For now, he understands that to get there, it’s all about what he can do for the Hurricanes, his second family.
One thing matters: wins
“People are looking my way and I’m doing the best I can to take those expectations, turn them into opportunities — and conquer,” said James, who rushed for 275 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns last season in the shadow of current Miami Dolphins rookie Lamar Miller. “I have to run hard, finish games and put the Miami Hurricanes in the best situation to win.
“Mike James’ stats don’t matter, [quarterback] Stephen Morris’ stats don’t matter, [linebacker] Denzel Perryman’s tackles don’t matter, [cornerback] Brandon McGee’s interceptions don’t matter. The only thing that matters is [wins].”