On Aug. 28, four days before the Miami Hurricanes’ season opener against Boston College, senior running back Mike James was visibly excited about starting the new season.
“It would be an honor to score on [Boston College] first,” he said, smiling. “I hope I don’t [have to wait too long].”
James’ plan did not come to fruition. And although UM won two of its first three games, James — who had recorded touchdowns in the 2010 and 2011 openers — failed to score in any of them. Meanwhile, his protégé, Duke Johnson, reached the end zone six times.
At a news conference leading up to last Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech, the first two football-related questions James was asked were about Johnson. But it didn’t seem to bother James.
According to teammates, James worked as hard as ever on the field and in the weight room. And last Saturday, he finally had the results to show for it, scoring four touchdowns, including the winning 25-yard run in overtime.
“I was elated for him,” senior cornerback Brandon McGee said. “When a lot of people were praising Duke and everything, Mike stayed consistent. He said, ‘Look, I’m happy for Duke.’ A lot of people were giving him heat about it, but he kept grinding, and it’s showing.”
Coach Al Golden said what impressed him the most about James’ performance against Georgia Tech was James’ unselfishness and the fact that the senior had clearly given his all, not only with his running and receiving but also with his crucial blocks.
“He was so emotionally spent after the game,” Golden said. “You rarely see that [from players]. He was exhausted emotionally, almost to tears.”
After the winning touchdown, James sought out fellow running backs Johnson, Eduardo Clements and Dallas Crawford.
Johnson — who James has said is “like a little brother” to him — was the first person he embraced.
“All those guys were there for me,” James said. “Through the ups and downs, we’re there for each other. When one of us does good, we feel like all of us [have done] good.”
It was especially meaningful for James that his elder sister, Jasmine, was in the stands.
She has been at every game since their mother died in a car accident in December 2010.
“I tell my sister all the time how much I appreciate that she’s been keeping the tradition going of my mom,” James said. “It’s great just to see the support system there.”
The performance against Georgia Tech might have been the breakout game his coaches and fans were hoping for, but James said he was just happy to get the win and show how driven the Hurricanes are this season.
“Basically, we’re just trying to show our opponent that we’re tougher than them, we’re in better condition than them, we’re smarter than them,” James said. “It’s not about who is scoring a touchdown.”
James and Johnson will face a tough test Saturday against N.C. State, which is ranked 30th in total defense and 35th in rushing defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.