But while the stadium wasn't packed with 80,000 fans and the "game" was actually a spring scrimmage, all the reasons why James was so high on the Badgers in the first place – atmosphere, coaches, facilities - flooded back into his mind.
“It was funny because everybody who I knew was wearing red now,” James said, referring to former Pittsburgh coaches Paul Chryst, Joe Rudolph and John Settle. “It was kind of weird but I’m glad I got to chance to go back up there. Things really haven’t changed that much. Stepping into Camp Randall, I got chills, man. As crazy as it feels, it felt like home.”
On Friday, James found out officially that Wisconsin will be his home for the next three seasons.
James told BadgerNation in mid-April that Wisconsin was the only school he was focused on transferring to but needed to wait until he was officially admitted into the University before things could move forward. He got the thumbs up Thursday night from Settle and received the official documentation on Friday.
“Coach Settle sent me a text, saying ‘welcome to the Badger family,’” James said. “I am really excited. It’s definitely been a long journey.”
Wisconsin was one of James’ top schools coming out of high school, a prep career that saw him rush for 4,220 yards and 53 touchdowns as a three-year starter. He was ranked a four-star recruit by Scout.com in the 2014 signing class, not to mention ranked the No.22 tailback and the No.244 overall prospect.
James was high on the Badgers coming out of high school but committed to Pittsburgh over offers from Iowa, Michigan State, Syracuse, Tennessee and many others.
Under the guidance of Settle, James was a top reserve back for then-Pitt head coach Paul Chryst, rushing for 437 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games as a true freshman. Once Chryst, Settle and Rudolph all left for Wisconsin for the 2015 season, James’ role diminished under new head coach Pat Narduzzi, finishing last season with only 253 yards on 56 carries and no touchdowns.
“I can’t wait to be back with Coach Settle,” James said. “Just to be back around some familiar faces and the guys who recruited me, guys who know who I’m capable of, a lot of guys don’t get that opportunity. I know a lot of kids who transfer who have to go completely different places and still not have many familiar faces. Lucky for me, I’m going closer home and be around guys who were my coaches, believed in me and trusted my talented and abilities.”
Needing to sit out this season due to N.C.A.A. transfer rules, James will have two years of eligibility remaining starting with the 2017 season, perfect timing considering the Badgers will graduate seniors Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale after this season. Considering the Badgers are tight on scholarships in 2017, it won’t be surprising if UW doesn’t take a tailback in 2017.
Planning to arrive in June for the start of summer conditioning, James is ready to spend the year focused on proving his doubters wrong.
“I’ve got plenty of more miles to run and cover,” he said. “I’m excited to finish up my last few weeks in Pittsburgh and then it’s off to Madison.”