An introspective visit with Kenny James

It was during a key play last year against UCLA that Isaiah Stanback handed the ball off to Kenny James. The Husky running back sped through a gaping hole on the left side of the line, and motored 20 yards past would-be tacklers for the touchdown. This put Washington up 10-0 over the undefeated Bruins.

The fans at the Rose Bowl were in shock. For a fleeting moment, it seemed that the Huskies were breaking free of their bleak recent past and moving toward a brighter future.

It was not to be, however. The Huskies collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost the game. From that point, the season fully unraveled into a debacle of 2 wins and 9 losses. Amid it all, promising tailback Kenny James battled a series of injuries that reduced his effectiveness. The team had been counting on him, but all he could do was mostly watch the action from the sideline.

Now, in May 2006, after a fantastic spring camp, Senior-to-be Kenny James is healthy and looking decisive. According to Coach Tyrone Willingham, James is the leading candidate to start at tailback against San Jose State, when the season begins September 2nd. With his final go-round as a Husky looming, James spoke with about the ups, downs and lessons he's learned.

"Throughout all of last season, I dealt with a lot of injuries," he said in his usual quiet voice. "People had their own opinions of how I was playing and about my productivity on the field, and whatnot. A bunch of things happened and were goin' on. So this spring I sat down with myself and I was like, `This is my last year, I have to do whatever I need to do to stay healthy. To get out there and help my team.' It's not just one player, of course, that's needed to help this team. It's got to be everybody doing their part. But I feel as long as I stay healthy and do my part, and lead by being more enthusiastic about the game, I feel like I can do some great things."

James was asked if he lost confidence in himself last season.

"To a certain point," he said, clearing his throat. "There were injuries that I never thought would happen to me, and they did happen. I wasn't used to those kinds of things. When they occurred, it kind of hit me hard. I wasn't producing as well as I should have been producing. Once things like that happen to you, you get sidetracked from what your goals were coming into the season. I got a little sidetracked, and it got me down a little bit. But you know-- I just had a great spring. I picked myself back up. And now I've got to take off with it."

Has James seen changes in himself since arriving as a freshman in 2002?

"Oh man, a lot," he said, his voice raising a notch. "A WHOLE lot of change since my Freshman year, now that I look back at it. Coming in, it was hard for me. I was homesick. I was away from home. I wasn't used to being away from home. I didn't really know anybody here. I kind of kept to myself a little bit. But I think that the thing that has changed the most is just being comfortable. Just getting out of my comfort zone. Coming from California—which was my comfort zone-- and creating a new comfort zone up here in Seattle. Just meeting everybody, all the people I've met. It's been a great experience."

Given his four years of experience, James was asked what he would say to an incoming freshman player seeking advice about the realities of college football.

"As many people as there are that want to see you succeed, there are just as many that want to see you fail," said James. "I would tell him to keep his head up. Somebody is always going to say something about him. You wake up in the morning and you always see somebody saying something (negative) about you and you just can't buy into it. You gotta keep your head up. You've got to just continue to struggle and work hard. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Whatever they say, they're going to say. But for my part, I would say to incoming freshmen, don't believe the stuff that other people are saying. And that's not just in football, but that also goes for everyday life.

"And there's ANOTHER thing that I would tell incoming freshmen," said James. "I would tell them, that all that stuff you did in high school; all the accolades and awards you won, that was good, but it really doesn't matter now. It only matters what you do HERE. That's what matters the most. As long as they come in and work hard, and have their goals, and do what is needed to accomplish them, they'll be OK. Be it working hard, or doing extra things before or after practice. And be humble. Mostly, whatever you need to do to accomplish your goals, MAKE SURE YOU DO IT. Because before you know it, your senior year is going to be here."

Kenny James paused, before concluding, "It all goes by so quick; and then it will be over."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories