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BONUS Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Personal accolades won’t distract Lions’ QB–still tormented by last year’s final play

October 2, 2009

It’s hard to project, generally, what athletes are most apt to feel as they approach eternal establishment of their names in history. So few get the chance to break one record for their sport or position–let alone all of them.

But, extrapolating of course, one might be inclined to expect excitement or anxiety, maybe even trepidation.

The image of bright white eyes beading amidst a dark bedroom comes to mind, sleeplessness setting in as the first of preciously finite opportunities to do so draw nearer. Others could be expected to embrace the gravity of the moment, accepting the challenge with eager restlessness. Others would possibly deflect the attention, some extremists even overcompensating through physically preparation, training to the point of exhaustion–as much as it is necessary to numb the senses.

It’s hard to say, but you’d certainly expect something.

Anything.

“I haven’t thought about it,” he said, unenthusiastically, following Thursday’s walk-through. “When it comes it comes.”

On the eve of his first opportunity to clench a firm hold of personal history, Lions’ quarterback Chris James had plenty on his mind. Just not on himself.

“I can care less about those records—if we’re 10-0 at the end of the season,” he said, his eyes starting to fit the earlier description upon the utterance of tomorrow’s game. “It’s about the NJAC, it’s about this game. This is our NJAC championship game, tomorrow.”

All but one, excruciatingly long year after a tearjerking 35-28 loss to the Cougars James enters Friday’s contest with a vendetta, a score to settle–after last season’s meeting ended so poorly for him, personally. If there’s any source of James’ delicate case of insomnia he described earlier the week, it’s the image of Cougars’ defensive back Chris Lauda streaking down the sideline after intercepting the four-year starter on the game’s final play.

Trailing 24-28 late in the fourth quarter, James trotted toward the grandest stage of all between the white lines at Lions’ Stadium–one he hoped would showcase his orchestration of an epic game-winning drive. And, on a last-ditch effort of utter desperation, the recipient of James’ fourth-and-ten heave did score a touchdown.

Fortunately for him–at James’ expense–the player was dressed in Cougar-blue. Rather than strolling out the arena having seized glory, James left quietly with bitter taste in his mouth–one that a year’s worth of dental products couldn’t quite mask.

“Like I said about FDU—I’ve been looking forward to this game since last year. Since that kid picked me off on the last play of the game and ran it all the way back. It’s been driving me crazy.”

According to James, last year’s finish to the rivalry adds weight to an already pivotal crossroads in the Lions’ 2009 campaign.

“Them coming to us, and us having a chance to win the game only to lose late—it definitely adds some pressure.”

If it didn’t, Kean wouldn’t be leaving the matter unaddressed.

Renowned for its multitude of complex blitz packages, and no reluctance send up to eight pass rushers, the Cougar D enters Friday’s game ranked 33rd in Division III in opposing passer efficiency (93.48 average QB rating).

Ravaging opposing backfields for the entirety of the young 2009 season, passers in particular, Kean’s front-seven have averaged 2.67 sacks in the team’s first three outings–second-best in the NJAC. Taking advantage of errant throws–many like James’ final attempt during last year’s late two-minute drill–the Cougars’ secondary has hauled in five interceptions.

Prior to his offense’s exposure to its most tenacious adversary to date, Lions’ head coach Eric Hamilton expects his veteran quarterback to maintain his composure.

“Chris has been around long enough now that he can take a few hits,” Hamilton said earlier in the week. “He’s a tough kid. He won’t get rattled.”

In spite of his suggested indifference, Friday night could yield an individually fruitful night for the product of Central Jersey powerhouse Brick Memorial high school.

Though he spoke singularly of his proximity to history, James is lingering in the vicinity of a number of the school’s individual passing records, all set by former Lions’ QB Bob Schurtz (2001-03).

Already having broken the career mark for attempts (Schurtz-733; James-735), the health and exercise science major needs all of seven completions to surpass the original career mark of 383–likely to be accomplished tonight, during the Lions’ first road trip of the season, to Union, NJ to face Kean University.

It would take an unprecedented effort, but James also has an outside shot of capturing the career yards record, needing only 434 to pass Schurtz’s final sum (5,337 yards).

Entering Friday’s game, James stands 11 touchdowns behind the school record set by Flip Faherty (1982-83), who threw for 48 touchdowns in his two seasons as starter for the Lions.

Despite last year’s unsavory outcome to the unequivocally high-pressure situation, James is yearning for a similar opportunity–now, this year, with this team.

When asked if he thought the situation might end differently if given the opportunity to bring his team back from a similar deficit, James answered not hypothetically or calculatedly. He replied with unmistakable certainty.

“We’re gonna win that game. No doubt in my mind.”

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