Those steps still are in the same order, but the integral components of James' game have involved quicker than his opponents thanks to a blend of daily hard work and a tremendous football I.Q.
It's the reason why he was presented with the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association defensive player of the year award at the association's 37th annual all-state banquet Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"It was a good feeling and it's an honor," James told Badger Nation. "It just shows that all the hard work pays off. Coaches put me in the right position. All the history we made as a school and as a team, that's a bond I've never with any teammates before."
The right position for James was as an outside linebacker/defensive end for Brookfield East. Helping lead the Spartans to an undefeated regular season, won the Greater Metro Conference and advanced to the third level of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs.
Playing a hybrid role on a 4-3 defense that gave up 9.6 points per game, James finished his senior season with 97 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles.
"I just feel I can do so many things," James said of playing a hybrid role. "I can drop back, I can rush, I can get a sack, I can get a pick, I can read quarterbacks, I can read linemen, there are so many things you can do off of it. That's really where the game is going towards. If I can learn that before a lot of other people, it can help my career."
When it comes to his collegiate career, James recognizes that it's getting close to decision time. Although committing to Wisconsin in August and saying he has remained verbally committed to the program, James has allowed other coaching staffs to make their pitches.
"I never de-committed from Wisconsin," said James. "It's just annoying to go through the whole process again. It's for a good reason, so it's a blessing."
Hosting coaching staffs from Arkansas, Michigan State, Oregon and Wisconsin this month, James will make a final decision before signing day between Oregon – where he took an official visit to two weeks ago – and Wisconsin.
James took an unofficial visit to the Badgers Saturday to watch film with the coaching staff and meet the new strength staff.
"Wisconsin has been talking to me a lot of the 3-4, so I just wanted to get a visual of it, how it looks on film and the position I would be playing," said James. "I just like to see things. It's completely different playing a different outside linebacker position, but the fundamentals are still there. They focus a lot on fundamentals like we do (at East).
"The strength coach is a good guy. He seems real smart, knew what he was doing and had a real passion for his job."
James smiled as his accomplishments were read in front of a packed house at the Lambeau Field atrium, but acknowledged that the award "doesn't prove anything" when he heads to the college of his choice.
"I still have a lot to work on myself," said James. "I am not near where I should be. College is a whole new level next year."