The four-star offensive tackle prospect from Cincinnati St. Xavier had helped his team out to a 17-7 lead against visiting Cincinnati Elder, and the Bomber defense was trying to keep the visitors out of the end zone in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
On the home sideline, James had rallied his fellow offensive linemen near one of the aluminum benches in front of a roaring student section and was delivering an important message.
"I was just saying this is our time," he told BuckeyeSports.com after the game. "We worked hard all season. We did a lot of extra stuff in the offseason. I have full faith in every single offensive lineman out there with me. I said it's our time and we have to run that clock down and win that game. This is what we play for right here. Fourth quarter, big (Greater Catholic League) game, run the ball and win the game."
The win for St. X was largely paved on the ground, as the Bombers outgained the visiting Panthers by a total of 133-5. For that, they had the 6-7, 260-pound James partly to thank.
Off the field, James is starting to feel more comfortable expressing himself as a leader on the team. In addition to serving as one of the team's four captains, he is one of two players to have played key roles on the team's 2007 state championship team.
As a junior, it created a sometimes difficult situation for James.
"Last year it was awkward because I was one of the returning starters and I didn't know where my boundaries were," he said. "This year I feel much more confident in the role. I like it a lot better. I enjoy the wins a lot more with it."
That extra sense of ownership in his team's success was drilled into James by head coach Steve Specht. The victory against Elder, who was ranked No. 3 in the country by ESPN entering the game, came one week after a disappointing 12-7 loss to a team from Kentucky.
Specht said he personally challenged James to pick up his teammates during the week leading up to the Elder game.
"I was hard on Matt and I challenged him," Specht said. "He didn't buckle. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I know. We're going to get better coach. We're going to get better.' He's a rallying cry."
That devotion to his teammates has come while he is being recruited by some of the top programs in the country. James said he has a list of four final schools in Ohio State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Florida, and is planning on taking official visits when his senior season is complete.
During the Elder game, James had UC head coach Brian Kelly and ND offensive line coach Frank Verducci were on hand to see James.
Asked about their appearances for the game, James said he was more focused on the task at hand.
"It's just fun," said. "Nothing beats GCL football though. We're out here playing Friday nights and the place is packed with 8,000 fans. It's what every high school football player dreams for."
Specht said he has no idea how hard it is for James to blot out the recruiting process because the lineman never talks about it.
"Everybody's asking me, ‘Where's Matt going to go?' " Specht said. "I'll tell you what: Matt's worried about today. Matt is so worried about this team. He loves his friends and he loves these guys. You can't ask for a better person and a better person than Matt James."
Scout ranks James as the No. 11 offensive tackle in the country and the No. 6 prospect in Ohio. He said he might try to sneak in an unofficial visit or two in the coming months. However, James has told Specht that doing so is not high on his list of priorities.
"He made it clear when we sat down and talked about the recruiting process, he said, ‘I want to take my five official visits, coach, and I'm not going to worry about it until after the playoffs,' " the coach said. "All the schools that have been recruiting him, I've been clear: Look, don't pull the ‘well if he doesn't commit (game)' because then he'll go elsewhere."