Bob Padecky: Man, what a player that Ja’Narrick James is

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SEBASTOPOL — Ja’Narrick James was on the ground Friday night, screaming, really screaming. It wasn’t one of those owie screams, the kind you make when you stub your toe on a bedpost. No, this was one of those screams that shatters crystal, quickens the pulse and makes you feel sorry for the afflicted even if the afflicted was your worst enemy.

“The pain was going up through both legs, through my butt, up to my eyes,” the Analy running back said.

Cardinal Newman was threatening to take over the game, and the Tigers’ best chance to keep the ball away from Newman was flat on his back on the Analy sideline with severe cramping in both legs. Newman had just climbed to within three of Analy, 33-30. James returned the ensuing kickoff but hit the ground in pain with 5:25 left in the Division 3 North Coast Section playoff game.

James, all 5-foot-4, 152 pounds of him — “I put on five pounds the last week or two” — already had shown Newman that size doesn’t matter on the football field. James had run for three touchdowns, caught a pass for a fourth and would accumulate 231 yards total offense; Analy had 327 total.

Yet his biggest contribution was about to come.

Prone, James missed Analy’s next series, which failed to gain a first down. Newman was driving when a botched Cardinals snap from center was recovered by Analy’s T.J. Acheson on the Analy 21 with 2:22 left in the game.

James left the game at 5:25 and was still on the ground at 2:22. Analy personnel were working constantly on James’ legs, rubbing what looked like a small rolling pin across the back of them, each pass over a muscle creating the shrieking from James. James pounded the ground with his fist, ripped off his helmet and punctuated the screams with something close to a demand that they find a way to get his fanny back in the game.

At 2:22 James walked to the huddle with a gait that needed a walker. Painful it was to look at.

“The pain was excruciating,” James said. “I couldn’t move. But I had to move.”

Why?

“I wasn’t going to let my team down,” James said.

At this juncture, a little backstory is essential.

“I was dizzy, weak, overheated,” James said.

That was BEFORE the game. He was feeling fine until minutes before the kickoff. He was feverish. He thought he was dehydrated. He said the pain in his legs became acute by the start of the second quarter. At halftime, he stripped off his uniform in an attempt to cool off. During the game he drank five bottles of Gatorade and 3½ bottles of water.

Admittedly, he was a mess. Analy coach Dan Bourdon didn’t want his star to put himself in the hospital, but he needed James to keep the ball out of the hands of Newman quarterback Keaton Dunsford. Run out the clock was the strategy. Could he do it?

“I dug deep,” James said. “You can’t take any plays off against Newman. They’re too good.”

With 2:22 left, James ran for 2, 7, 7 and 0 yards. He gained a first down. He made it possible for Analy quarterback Will Smith to take a knee twice to end the game.

James had run 27 times in the game, at least 20 of them in pain, the last four when Analy needed him most. After the game, after all the coaches had spoken, James was the last person to address his mates. On a cool night, James was sweating profusely. His voice was hoarse. He was screaming.

“We got to push! Push harder than ever!” And not one of his teammates took his eyes off him. Not one. Not one of his teammates talked. Not one. He stood there, wobbling, voice breaking. Please sit down, you wanted to say to him.

“The pain is excruciating,” James said.

He was referring not to the pain when he ran. He was referring to the pain it took to stand.

“I think I’m going to really hurt tomorrow,” he said.

That’s when I felt I had to say something to James. But his grit, his fire, his unwavering commitment to team, it had to be put in its proper perspective.

“I never said this before to someone so young,” I told James, “but you’re a man.”

Through the sweat dripping down his face, the face locked in a permanent grimace, Ja’Narrick James, just 16 years old, responded the only way he could respond, the only way a real man responds.

“Thank you, sir,” he said.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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