James Poses Problems for Georgia

ATHENS - There's not a lot of green space in the Bronx borough of New York City. That's one explanation for how the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Erasmus James could make it all the way until his senior season of high school before playing organized football.

In his senior year of college, Erasmus James is terrorizing quarterbacks as an All-American defensive end at Wisconsin, but he didn't pick up the game until after moving from New York to Pembroke Pines, Fla.

That's where a high school coach finally persuaded James to give football a try.

"He said, 'You'd make a great defensive end,' so I came out, and he put me down in that stance and I've loved it ever since," James said.

He made 53 tackles that first season, including 14 sacks, and was named second-team All-Broward County. If he hadn't been the high school teammate of FSU cornerback Bryant McFadden, James' football career might have ended there.

McFadden was one of the state's most highly recruited athletes, and several schools who came to see him decided James might be worth a late scholarship. Miami coach Butch Davis made an in-home visit, and North Carolina State showed some interest. But once James made a trip to Madison, Wis., his recruitment was over.

"I fell in love with the school and the football program," he said. James and the Badgers (9-2) face Georgia (9-2) in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

James redshirted his first season at Wisconsin, then started one game as a freshman and 13 as a sophomore. He was poised for a breakout year when he dislocated his hip early in the 2003 preseason during a non-contact drill.

"It was a fluke injury," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "I saw him fall down, and it didn't look very serious."

It was, though.

"For a while, it looked like his career might be over," Alvarez said.

James basically gave up on the sport when he was unable to return for the Badgers' fourth game of the 2003 season, as the team's doctors had originally projected. It wasn't until March, when he returned to his home and visited with a doctor for the NFL's New York Giants, that he thought he might get back on the field again.

"He gave me the confidence to go back and work," James said.

He took to his rehabilitation and the weight room with zeal and added more than 20 pounds to an already fast body.

"I think what it did for him was make him really appreciate football a little more, and what he had missed," Alvarez said. "We knew he was going to be special going into the year."

Despite playing the final five games of the season on a tender ankle, James recorded eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss and was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this season.

"Whenever Erasmus is in the game, you know you're going to get pressure," Wisconsin defensive back Jim Leonhard said. "As a secondary, you have to understand the ball might be coming out a little quicker." Only two of the Bulldogs have any familiarity with James. Coach Mark Richt and defensive end David Pollack met him recently on the national awards circuit.

"I didn't really want to like him, but I did like him as a person," Richt said. "He's a great guy."

James and Pollack provide very similar problems for an opponent, Richt said.

"(James) gets off the ball faster than anyone else, he jumps over people, can play the run extremely well and has that high energy level," he said, "so that's going to be quite a challenge for us."

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