James right where he wants to be

In high school he was the 'can't-miss' kid. He put a whole community on his shoulders and took them the distance. Twice, in fact. So when Kenny James shunned Fresno State for the supposed greener pastures of Washington, it wasn't because the pressure to perform locally had become too great. It was just the opposite.

"It was just the Pac-10," Kenny told Dawgman.com about his decision to pick the Huskies over the Bulldogs in a hotly-contested recruiting battle. "And high school players in California dream of playing in the Pac-10, so that's what separated Washington from Fresno (State)."

And two weeks ago, he couldn't have been further away from Dos Palos, California. The scene was Ohio Stadium. The Huskies were taking on the defending national champions - the Ohio State Buckeyes. And the redshirt frosh RB suddenly found himself on the field, with his number being called.

"It was a great experience for me," James said. "Seeing Rich (Alexis) go down, I'm on the sideline thinking, 'I'm going to have to go in', and at the same time I was nervous and my heart was pumping. It was a fun experience. I enjoyed being out there."

But it didn't turn out as well as these fairy-tale situations are supposed to. He found himself open on the sidelines and Cody Pickett threw a quick strike to take advantage of some space, but All-American Chris Gamble raced in and sold out to bat the ball away.

"At that point, my main focus was just to catch the ball and get upfield," Kenny said. "And Chris Gamble made a great play, made a great break on the ball. Luckily he didn't intercept it and return it for a touchdown."

Two plays later, Kenny's number was called again on a 3rd-and-1 play that was designed to go off tackle, but Buckeye defenders A.J. Hawk and Nate Salley made sure James never made it past the line of scrimmage.

Welcome to the 2003 season, Mr. James.

"It would have been fun (to go back in), but it was coach's decision and it was good that Rich was able to go back in, to know that wasn't anything serious," Kenny said.

1 rush for no yardage is not exactly how James envisioned his Husky career starting, but there's a long ways to go. And there's no question Kenny knows how to run with the rock. Back on February 6th, 2002, then-head coach Rick Neuheisel had this to say about James.

"In my estimation and I don't say this lightly he was the best of all the tailbacks in California," Neuheisel said. "Now there are other more highly touted guys in the recruiting world but this was the best tailback in California in terms of productivity and what he got done on an every down basis..."

There's no question 'productivity' is the only way to describe James' years at Dos Palos. As a junior and senior, Kenny led Dos Palos to a 21-1 record and a pair of CIF Central Section titles, totalling 5312 yards and 103 touchdowns along the way. Here's a sampling of just how impressive Kenny's high school career was.

As of September, 2002, James ranks 22nd in the country all-time in scoring, with 708 points scored in his prep career. He's tied for 10th in the country all-time with his 54 touchdowns scored in 2000. He happens to currently share that mark with a familiar face around Seattle pro sports, a fellow that also scored 54 times for Florence (Kent.) Boone County back in 1994.

His name? Shaun Alexander.

James' 118 TD's scored in his career is 16th all-time. And when compared to the other top productive Cali back of a similar era, Ventura (Calif.) Saint Bonaventure's Lorenzo Booker, James comes out looking every bit the equal to the current Florida State star. The 2899 yards Kenny rushed for in 2001 was 15th highest in the country that season, and 30 yards more than Lorenzo Booker. His 49 touchdowns as a senior was 6th in the country that year, and only one behind Booker.

"High school is so different than college," James said. "It's like there are 10 more of you on the team. You just have to work through it and hope and pray something works out for you. Both the Davis brothers (Rodney and Marque) went to Fresno from Dos Palos, and are having excellent careers. And for me, getting a chance to play in the Pac-10, not too many kids get that opportunity. I'm just thankful to be one of them."

And things were going just the way Kenny had planned until the spring of 2003, when he went down with a knee sprain. According to him, it's the first time he'd ever been seriously injured. "Football is a contact sport and injuries are common," he said. "You just have to work through them. Anybody can play this game when they are healthy, but it takes a better player to play when they aren't. But right now I feel 100 percent and I'm ready to go."

And back to the present. James is ready to talk about the three-headed monster that is the Washington running game. He gained 38 yards on 14 carries against Indiana in his first substantial action as a Dawg. But Alexis and Shelton Sampson continue to get the kudos for their play.

So Kenny is in unfamiliar territory. Instead of being 'the man', he's now just another guy. But it isn't getting to him. "I'm going to approach it the same way I have since I got here," James said of the current glut of runners. "I'm going to work hard and give 110 percent every play. Rich and Shelton are both outstanding running backs and we have to continue to work and get the running game back on top."

New Husky head coach Keith Gilbertson acknowledges the specific abilities of all his backs, and has recently instituted a 3-1-1 carries ratio for Alexis, James and Sampson. "Rich has been here a long time and he's an experienced back," Kenny said. "He's a senior and I know he wants to go out with a bang. He wants to go out with a good season. It's only right that he get his carries. Me and Shelton, we're just waiting for our number to be called. We're just ready to make plays."

And even though Sampson, a player with some serious wheels, scored twice against the Hoosiers and is being touted as the fastest back the Huskies have had since Rashaan Shehee, it doesn't bother James at all. In fact, his comments suggest just the opposite. "I'm not worried at all," he said. "Shelton is a great back. He's got a lot of speed and he's got a lot of power. There's nothing for me to be worried about. As long as we're winning and as long as I see all of the running backs doing good, I've got nothing to worry about.

"My goal is just to be the best I can be. If I do that, the yards will come, the carries will come and the touchdowns will come. My main focus right now is just to be the best back I can be at this level and just improving every day. I feel I'm on track to where I want to be. As long as I work hard and perform to the best of my abilities, I feel that, at the end, I'll be right where I want to be."

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