All-Empire large schools football offensive player of the year: Ja’Narrick James

Ja'Narrick James. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Ja’Narrick James. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Over the past three years, the Analy football team became a yard-churning, point-scoring machine. And the compact engine that drove the machine was Ja’Narrick James, the Tigers’ 5-foot-6 (and the listing may be generous) running back and passionate leader.

James is our 2014 Large School Offensive Player of the Year.

“What he’s done the past three years, all the numbers he puts up, and the fact that’s he doing it in two quarters for the most part — it’s hard to explain what Ja’Narrick has meant to the team,” Analy coach Daniel Bourdon said.

OK, let’s start with the numbers. The Tigers fielded a potent offense this season, and James’ fingerprints were all over the football. He rushed for 1,455 yards and 24 touchdowns on 171 carries (an 8.5-yard average), caught 49 passes (second on the team) for 559 yards (third) and another nine touchdowns, and averaged 21.5 yards as Analy’s primary kickoff returner.

With James leading the way, the 11-2 Tigers scored a ridiculous 667 points in 2014. And lest you think that came solely at the expense of lesser teams in the Sonoma County League, consider that Analy scored 163 points in three playoff games. Even while losing in the semifinal round, the Tigers weren’t beaten by Campolindo so much as outscored, eventually falling 62-46.

Campolindo wound up as the CIF state champion in Division 3.

For James, 2014 was simply the culmination of a dominant stretch that began his sophomore year when he emerged as a change-of-pace back and dangerous kick returner. Over three seasons of varsity ball, James racked up 5,596 all-purpose yards and 77 touchdowns. He had a lot of high-end help — including quarterback Will Smith and wide receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. this year — but James was the kid who never stopped moving forward.

More than a stat hoarder, James also was the emotional heart of the Tigers. When they fell way behind at McClymonds High in late September, it was James who exhorted teammates to keep fighting to the end. He was a true sportsman, though, the type of guy who will offer a defender a congratulatory handshake after a particularly hard hit.

Early on, James might have seemed half-player, half-mascot. He had a colorful nickname, “Skittles,” randomly bestowed by assistant coach Jim Lewis as he groped for the right image to exhort his offensive line to keep opponents off the running back. James’ lack of height made him seem accessible, even cuddly. Don’t be fooled.

“He’s short, he’s not little,” Bourdon said. “He’s a thick guy. He trains hard.”

Indeed, James’ father, Ricky, is a maintenance worker on the Analy campus, and Ja’Narrick has used his access to the weight room to build a physique that makes him nearly cubical. James is a shifty runner, but most of his yardage came between the tackles. He isn’t afraid of banging pads with larger defenders.

Still, James has had to prove himself again and again to people who dismiss him because he isn’t 6 feet tall. He’s still proving.

“That’s always been my motivation since I was younger,” James said “People see me and they’re thinking, ‘Oh, he’s not that big. He’s good at this level, but he won’t be able to do it at the next level.’ I call it fueled by doubt. There’s a confidence I get from people telling me I can’t do something, and I have a stubborn mindset to prove them wrong.”

James isn’t sure where he’ll be next fall, but he said he’s getting attention from schools of various sizes. He’s ready to fool the doubters all over again.