"This year, I was in the opposite position. Everybody was trying to call me out and get my scholarship. In the first half of the season, it was rough, because everybody knows who you are, everybody is taunting you, and everybody's trying to put you on their highlight film. But as the season went on, I got back to working like I've never had anything."
Additionally, James took on the added responsibility of starting at defensive tackle for Pikeville (N.C.) Aycock. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder had focused solely on offensive guard, his projected college position, since moving up to varsity as a sophomore.
"It was tough," James said. "Last year, just playing offense you can focus on just getting good on playing offense, because that's all you did. Playing both ways, you don't necessary sacrifice how good you were, but you put more of yourself on the line for the team. At the end of the day, I grew in heart, grew in spirit, and grew in character."
In 2009, Aycock went 10-3 and reached the second round of the NCHSAA 3A Playoffs. This season, though, the team failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 3-8 record.
"From a team prospective, it hurts," James said. "Everybody's goal is to be practicing up until Thanksgiving and playing for a state championship.
"Probably a lot contributed to [the disappointing season]. But at the end of the day, we won the games as a team and lost the games as a team. So you can't really put the blame on anybody."
Although Aycock's 2010 season ended on Nov. 5, James has been preparing for one last high school game – the Shrine Bowl on Dec. 18.
"It's time to put an exclamation point on my season," James said. "It's my last high school game. I feel like I'm going out there representing not just myself, but my team, my county, my city, and ultimately the great state of North Carolina."
After returning home from the Shrine Bowl, James, who says he projects as a qualifier by the NCAA Clearinghouse, will join Aycock's wrestling team. He also plans to participant on the track and field team this spring.
Since September, James has received a weekly phone call from Ken Browning, who is handling James' recruitment for UNC.
"He just calls me [and] asks me how my day's going," James said. "I ask him how his day is going, how's his family, how's everything, and what they're doing to prepare for the next game."
On Monday, Browning visited Aycock where he and James set up an official visit for this coming weekend.
"[Officially visiting this weekend] just fits into my schedule," James said. "The next few weekends I have other engagements. This is the most opportune time for me."
James attended four of UNC's six home games this season, including the final two against ACC rivals NC State and Virginia Tech.
"The ones I did go to, I had a lot of fun," James said.