UF Makes a Move on James

Every time a St. Augustine opponent kicks off or punts, Brandon James puts the fear of the almighty in the coverage units assigned to bottling up this 5-7, 170-pound dynamo of speed and energy. Consider him a high school version of Miami kick returner deluxe Devin Hester and that's why the Florida Gators are fast moving into the recruiting picture.

(See Brandon James profile)

James plays running back and corner when he's not returning kicks for the undefeated Yellow Jackets. He may not be the biggest player on the field but he certainly has big time offers to play college football. Penn State, Iowa, Georgia Tech and South Carolina are among the teams that have offered but it's Florida that is moving up the ladder quickly. The Gators have an acute need for a kick return specialist since they've lost two every down players to season ending injuries suffered on special teams.

Florida lost wide receiver Bubba Caldwell in the third game of the season on a kickoff return and last week starting corner Vernell Brown broke a leg during a punt return. Brown is a senior so his punt return job will be up for grabs next year and it's unlikely that Caldwell will return kickoffs after his season-ending injury on a return. That means James could possibly have a shot at stepping into those roles if he chooses Florida.

"I got a call from Coach (Greg) Mattison last week," James said. "He said they [Gators] are interested and wanted to start recruiting me again. He asked if I would like to catch passes and return kicks in The Swamp and I said yes."

St. Augustine is 10-0 as it enters the state playoffs. James is the team's leading rusher with 1,019 yards and 19 touchdowns. He doubles as a corner on defense and his special teams play has made him a lethal weapon for the Yellow Jackets who hope to run the table for an unbeaten, state championship season.

Florida's late entry into the recruiting derby means the Gators will have to overcome some top flight programs that have been recruiting James all along. Even though James is very interested in the Gators it is apparent that they have some ground to make up.

"I am looking at Penn State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina the hardest," James said. "Louisville has been recruiting me the whole time. Florida just came into the picture and will of course have a big impact on my recruiting just because they are Florida. Coach Mattison was calling me early then lost interest. As of late he called me again. He asked how I was doing and how the season was going. From what my coach told me he said they wanted to evaluate my film and they were real interested."

James could actually become part of a package deal out of St. Augustine for the Gators. Florida has been hot on the recruiting trail of St. Augustine's Jacques Rickerson, not only one of the top corners in the country but the half brother of Brandon James. The two are very close and both have offers from Penn State, South Carolina and Georgia Tech. James said it could be a major factor if the two of them could go to Florida together.

"We have a lot of the same schools interested in us," James said. "If Florida comes into the picture it really could [be a factor] because Florida is high on him [Rickerson]. His decision does have a little effect.

"We have the same father. We live right around the corner from each other. We did everything together growing up…because of Florida being in the SEC and also being hard after Jacques and wanting to continue on and play ball with him, that could be a big factor."

James talked about why he has an interest in Penn State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina.

PENN STATE: "With the recruits they got last year they are having a good year. The whole tradition and stuff about Coach Paterno and all his wins."

GEORGIA TECH: "They are close, in the ACC and I also like how they run the ball and their schemes on offense."

SOUTH CAROLINA: "Coach Spurrier is bringing his offense into South Carolina. He is having a good year this year going bowl eligible. I think he is going to turn the program around."

It will be a combination of education and how he feels he fits in for football that will be the deciding factors when he does make a choice. His high school academics will not be an issue.

"I actually qualified before the year started," he said. "I am raising my GPA and already at a 2.9 and close to a 3.0. Education is important. I think I will major in communications. I said that from the beginning, then I want to see how I fit in the program. I like playing offense."

Although he is a relative newcomer to Florida's recruiting scene Brandon James could be a valuable component to Florida's recruiting class of 2006. Two critical injuries have made signing a kick return specialist a necessity for the Gators.

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