James' leadership stands out

Wisconsin's star defensive end contributing to understudies' development

The superlatives adorning Erasmus James seemingly know no bounds.

James, Wisconsin's star defensive end, will not play this Saturday against Northwestern due to an ankle injury. But that does not mean that his impact will not be felt on the field and it certainly does not diminish what he has accomplished this season.

"He's as good as I've been around," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "We've had some pretty good d-linemen here. Tom Burke was an All-American and I believe led the nation in sacks. Wendell Bryant was an early first-round pick and an All-American but they can't do the things that Erasmus can do."

Alvarez also called James "the most dominant player we've ever had." Defensive line coach John Palermo concurred.

"There is no question," Palermo said. "Athletically. Fundamentally. Explosiveness. He probably is the most dominant player we've had."

James leads the Big Ten with seven sacks and is second in the league with 10.5 tackles for loss. He was busy manhandling Purdue's offense Saturday when he hurt his ankle as the result of a chop block.

Relegated to the sidelines, James heeded Palermo's advice and turned himself into a coach for his young replacements, primarily Jamal Cooper and Joe Monty.

"Basically what I told him was, ‘look, I can only get on these guys so much,'" Palermo said. "‘Now, it's got to come from the players.' I tell you what, he did a great job getting after their fannies and getting them ready."

James' did not reserve his energy for keeping his fellow defensive linemen in the game. After corner Scott Starks returned Kyle Orton's fumble 40 yards for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a 20-17 lead with 2:36 remaining, James helped him refocus.

"I was on the sidelines, I was raising my hands praying to God," Starks said. "Erasmus kept grabbing at me, ‘it's not over yet, it's not over yet.' [I said], ‘you're right, it's not over yet.' And he wasn't even going back out on the field. That's just good leadership right there."

James missed all of last season with a hip injured but has marveled the Badgers and ravaged opponents with his play this year.

"I'm just as surprised as probably he is," Palermo said. "The thing that was amazing to me was that when he did come back, he picked up right where he left off."

"He is capable of a big play all the time," Alvarez said. "You know you are going to get some pressure on the passer. Plus, he is a tremendous run defender. I don't know if there is as dominant a player in college football right now as him. To eliminate him from your team is huge."

The only thing, it seems, that can keep James from contributing in some way is a trip to the dentist's office. Rather than watching practice Tuesday, James had two wisdom teeth removed.

"Right now [Tuesday] he's having two wisdom teeth pulled out so he's probably not in the best of moods," Palermo said.

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