James completes ferocious defensive line

Back from a hip injury, senior end Erasmus James is setting a tone for Wisconsin's defense

There is always a rush for the Badger football players running out of the Camp Randall tunnel and onto the playing field. John Stocco admitted as much before his first career start against the University of Central Florida. And while much of the microscope was pointed in the direction of the Badgers' signal caller, a senior defense lineman was feeling just as nervous waiting to run go onto the field.

Erasmus James was making his return to the field for the Badgers after a hip injury relegated him to the sidelines for the entire 2003 season. Even though James knew his injury was behind him, there was a certain level of uncertainty in his mind about how well he'd fair on the field.

"It was a matter of how I get out there and how I react to everything I see out there," James said. "When I got down in my stance and saw that guy with the ball I knew that first tackle had to be mine, so I went out and got him."

James recorded his first of two tackles for loss on the day during the Badgers' first defensive series of the game, stopping Golden Knight tailback Alex Haynes in the backfield just as he was handed the ball.

"I was happy for him," fellow defensive linemen Jason Jefferson said of James' return. "I was really happy for him. You know, he came a long way, and I'm just happy that he's back. It's a blessing, I guess. He brings so much to (the defensive line) and just makes everyone else's job that much easier."

James went on to record four tackles on the day, including two TFLs and a sack, sharing the Badgers' Defensive Player of the Week honors with the rest of the defensive line. James went on to record four more tackles in Wisconsin's 18-3 win over UNLV the following week and again opened the Badgers' first defensive series with a tackle for loss. He shared the Defensive Player of the Week award with Jim Leonhard.

After two weeks, it seems James' return could not have turned out any better. He says the hip is not holding him back in the least, and he's going to play the game with the same reckless abandon that was on display in 2002 when he led the Badgers with 17 quarterback hurries.

"It feels great," James said of getting back out on the playing field. "I love playing hard. The game was meant to be played hard and fast. So I really don't (pay much attention) to the hip injury anymore."

And with James back in the mix, Wisconsin is sporting one of the finest defensive lines in the nation. With All-American candidate tackle Anttaj Hawthorne and two other all-conference candidates in Jefferson and end Jonathan Welsh sharing the line with James, the unit sets the tone for the defense, making plays and easing the pressure on the Badger's inexperienced corps of linebackers. It is also a unit that came into the program together and aims to leave UW as winners.

"When you come in with a bunch of guys as a freshman you don't know what it takes in order to be a winner," James said of his fellow line-mates. "And now we're all grown up and we're all leaving together, and with that we know what it takes and we all want to get out there and perform to the best of our ability."

After the road James has traveled to get back, knowing a unit as strong and as tightly knit as the Badgers' defensive line would be waiting for him was strong motivation to get back on the playing field. Now they are aiming to show Arizona and the rest of the Big Ten just how good they can be.

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