Adam James expects to be booed Saturday morning.
Senior day at Jones AT&T Stadium — where James’ family will join him for pre-game ceremonies before his final home game — could be a moment the controversial Texas Tech tight end has been dreading. But he says the thought didn’t cross his mind until recently.
“I really didn’t think about it until a couple of weeks ago when they asked me who was going to walk out there with me,” James said. “One of the guys kind of cracked a joke about it and that was the first time that I thought about it.”
James made the comments during a half-hour interview this week with reporters from The Avalanche-Journal, The Associated Press and TexasTech.com. The sit-down was granted on condition a Texas Tech spokesman be in the room to keep James from answering questions that might affect ongoing litigation.
It was James’ first media interview since the December 2009 firing of former Tech coach Mike Leach, for which many Red Raiders fans blame him. They haven’t been shy about voicing their disdain, whether ridiculing him on Internet message boards or booing him on his home field.
“The message boards I don’t pay any attention to,” he said, “and I guess when you get 60,000 strong (in Jones AT&T Stadium), it’s easy to voice your opinion. But I really have never let what people say or think about me affect me, unless it was somebody that really knew me and knew who I was.
“If one of my teammates now said something about my work ethic, then I would take that to heart and I would work on it. But somebody that’s never been around me, never seen me in the weight room, at practice, if they have something to say, they don’t have all the information.”
It’s been 22 months since James went from a fairly anonymous backup receiver to a key figure in a controversy that grabbed national attention.
James insists he’s held up well, saying “it hasn’t necessarily been as much of a challenge as it has been a learning experience.”
Tech officials fired Leach the week of the 2009 Alamo Bowl. They say he refused to cooperate with an internal investigation, claiming he ignored medical protocol after James suffered a concussion.
A Tech official wouldn’t let James answer questions posed about how he suffered the concussion or his relationship with Leach. Shortly after Leach’s firing, former players Graham Harrell and Eric Morris and former assistant coaches Dana Holgorsen and Lincoln Riley portrayed James in an unflattering light. They said he acted lazy and entitled.
“I would say everybody has their opinion,” James said, “and if that’s their opinion of me, that’s unfortunate. I think if you were to go ask any of my teammates now, any of my coaches now, it would be a completely different response.”
James was asked if there was any validity to accusations of him acting immature and not working hard early in his career.
“I would say every player as they age, they mature,” he said. “And with maturity, you realize you can push yourself harder. Any player comes in not really knowing what their limits are. Some mature faster than others, so I would definitely say I’ve matured as a player, just like anybody else.”
Sometime after Leach’s firing, James said his phone number got out, and he received nasty phone calls, voice mails and Facebook messages.
On campus, he said, his life has been much like that of any other student — in his case, free from confrontation.
“Surprisingly,” he said with a chuckle. “To be honest, nobody’s really (been confrontational) in person. It really hasn’t been bad.”
James said he never considered transferring. His family never suggested it, he said, because they knew he wouldn’t hear of it.
“It would have been easy to leave and go somewhere else,” he said, “but for me, I never really thought about it. I love Texas Tech. I’ve always loved it. I want to graduate from here. All my life, I want to be associated with Texas Tech.”
James’ father, Craig James, corroborated that position. The elder James said Adam and his brother, Andy, also a Tech student, “love being Red Raiders.”
“He never for one moment suggested he wanted to leave Texas Tech,” Craig James said. “He loves Texas Tech, pure and simple.”
Adam James credits teammates with being his greatest source of support. Quarterback Seth Doege, kicker Donnie Carona and fellow receivers Austin Zouzalik and Alex Torres he counts among his closest friends.
James said the support from his teammates, family and friends is what’s made the last two years tolerable.
“The thing about Adam,” Doege said, “is not many people can go through what he’s been through and keep going and stick with what he wants to do, and that is play football for Texas Tech.”
Tommy Tuberville and a mostly new staff replaced Leach in January 2010. James said new offensive coordinator Neal Brown told him he was starting with a “blank slate” and would be judged by his work going forward. James caught five passes for a career-high 95 yards Saturday at Texas, after which Brown said James plays hard and competes.
In the last month, for the first time in his career, James has been spotlighted more for on-field contributions than his role in the Leach firing. It’s been a bittersweet five weeks, because his best games have come with the Red Raiders in a 1-4 stretch.
“The last year and a half, really, I’ve taken a lot of pride in showing up every day with a positive attitude,” he said, “and whether things were going good or bad for me personally I’ve never brought my emotions to the fieldhouse, and I think that’s really allowed me to work hard every day. And I think the coaches have realized that.”
His three-year totals before this season were 34 catches for 339 yards and two touchdowns. In the last five games, he’s caught 19 passes for 240 yards and a TD.
So he’s been in full view, for fans to either cheer or boo. When he caught a touchdown pass against Texas A&M, James said he “heard a lot more cheering than anything.”
Some booed, though.
“I hate it,” Carona said. “I’ve never liked it since the start. I think he deserves the respect that we all get, because he’s playing for the same team, and he’s busting his butt for the team to do better. He’s got the team, and that’s all we need is each other.”
Craig James said he attended last month’s Tech-Kansas State game at Jones AT&T Stadium, sitting at the 50-yard line among other parents. James won’t attend Saturday’s game because, in his role as an ESPN analyst, he’s assigned to work the Michigan-Illinois game.
However, in the last two years, Craig James said he’s learned his son has plenty of support even when he’s not around.
“The only folks he cares about are his teammates,” Craig James said, “because he says his teammates ‘know who I am and they know what happened.’ And that is why he’s been able to sleep at night and endure.”
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