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It’s Now or Never: For none more than TCNJ’s James

November 13, 2009

There’s no shortage of motivation for anyone listed on the Lions’ roster, entering the team’s scheduled trip to Glassboro to take on Rowan University.

But their might be one name with a heavier vested sentiment.

Try and draw up a hypothetical source of urgency for Saturday’s game, and it probably already exists—and pertains to TCNJ quarterback Chris James.

Not only does it represent the team’s last-ditch effort at salvaging par, now 4-5 and hoping to avoid consecutive losing seasons. But, should it drop this, the last date on its 2009 calendar, the team’s most recent L would extend the program’s recent skid to five games—among the worst such spans in its rich history.

For James, like the rest of his fellow seniors, the weekend offers one last chance to enter a competitive arena for his final dance as a collegiate athlete. Players bandaging a full season’s worth of wounds to their person have the off-season to heal—for some the rest of their lives.

But to their pride? Their legacy? Eternity won’t relinquish any of that breed of pain, though it offers plenty of time to wonder.

What if?

That question has the potential to resonate with a number of Lions, but many of them will have the forum to respond definitively. Still hampered from undisclosed injuries suffered against SUNY-Cortland two weeks back, his status for this weekend looms with uncertainty.

No official injury information is, or will be made available before kickoff.

Still, players and coaches agree, if there were ever a competitor capable of pulling off that kind of miracle return, it’s this guy.

Right here in Trenton.

“It’s definitely Chris,” wide receiver Cam Richardson said of his quarterback. “He wants to be out there. … I try to think he’s at least going to try and get out on the field at least a little bit. … He’s gonna bust his balls and try to get out there. He’s been rehabbing all week, taking care of his body. I think come Saturday he could be ready to play.”

“He’s proven it and he’s done it,” head coach Eric Hamilton said of his experience with James, though he realized the odds stacked against him. “You just don’t miss that kind of time, wave the magic wand and say, ‘I’m here to do it.’”

Though, according to James, if there’s even a glimmer of light illuminating a way, the stage and his opposition only bolstered his unwavering will.

“It’s your biggest rival, and it’s your last game,” he said. “Your threshold for pain is—you’d have to peel me off the field.”

Should he manage to get himself on the gridiron, the imposing challenge is a familiar foe.

Rowan’s defense is currently ranked first in the conference in nearly every measurable standard—among the Top 15 in the nation in four. Most pertinent to James are the Profs No. 4 pass efficiency defense (opp. avg. 84.34 pass efficiency) and its tightfistedness in aerial yards allowed, two spots outside Top 10 in Division III (133.89 pass yds/gm).

As time progressed—with it, his opponents’ caliber—James has twice encountered this kind of commanding defensive secondaries, neither of which went in his favor. Despite his stellar precision against the other five of his first seven, Kean and William Paterson’s No. 1 pass efficiency defenses proved an insurmountable challenge (both ranked 1st in NJAC entering gm vs. TCNJ).

At the time.

“Yeah, you think about it,” he said of his combined 38-of-75, 423 yard, 3TD, 4 INT resume against the two (87/131, avg. 258 yds, 11 TDs, 4 INT in 5 other gms).

“You always want to put your best performance out. … But you wanna do it against the best. You don’t want anybody to be able to say anything. If you put your greatest performance together against the greatest team, that shows the real player you are.”

In more absolute terms, there’s a disjunction between James pristine 4-0 record against teams with “lesser” defensive prestige, and the doughnut in across from those two losses (TCNJ L vs. Kean, Wm. Paterson).

Fierce competitor he is, his discontent shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when he’s asked to look back on those two tarnishes.

“I think about that. It’s not the record you have against the lower teams. If you look at it—Rowan, [SUNY]-Cortland, Kean, Montclair [State], it’s all about those teams and your record against them.”

Buried somewhere in the backburner, James’ hunt for personal glory is also at risk. Already the school’s record-holder for attempts, completions and yards in a career—all accomplished this season—he lingers in antagonizing proximity to two more program milestones.

Approaching one final remaining game of his expiring NCAA eligibility, James is only 176 yards shy of TCNJ’s single-season yards mark, and three passing scores short of eclipsing its career TD landmark (James-1,757 yds in 2009, 45 TDs career; Schurtz-1,932 yds in 2001, Faherty 48 TDs between 1982-83). With 23 more completions on the year, he’d even surpass his own personal best of 154 he threw as a sophomore—also the Lions’ best (set in 2007).

But unlike the attention a looming Rowan demands, striving for individual achievements is—at this and any juncture—an afterthought for him.

“You have to keep in mind the best interests of the team, too.”

Whether he’ll suit up for his final weekend recital on the conference’s greatest stage is yet to be seen. But, when asked of his last words and wishes for the dead-end road ahead, he voiced a few ambitious requests.

Just not the kind you tend to expect.

“I hope everybody just leaves it out on the field, you know? No further questions. … I just want to see our senior class go out there and leave it all out there.

“When we’re done, just hang up the pads and say, ‘Bon voyage.’”

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