By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 16, 2014) – Between spring practice, when Paul James was held out of contact entirely, and this preseason camp, when his live action has been closely monitored, it’s easy to forget what a difference-maker he is on Rutgers’ offense.
Then he reminds everyone again with one play.
The fourth-year junior turned in the most dazzling big play of the Scarlet Knights’ final scrimmage tonight at High Point Solutions Stadium, helping the offense escape from the 1-yard line with a 95-yard run that would have been a school record had it happened in a game.
Only the determination of Davon Jacobs prevented James from a 99-yard run, with Jacobs catching up just enough to be able dive and make an ankle-swiping tackle.
“I didn’t know (it would have been a school-record run, eclipsing Mohamed Sanu’s 91-yard jaunt against Tulane in 2010, had it counted),” James said. “It was basically on the 1-yard line so I figured it would have been.”
James was without one major advantage when he broke free, heading into the an entire field of green toward the south end zone: The video scoreboard was not showing the live action, so James could not take a peek up to see if anyone was chasing him.
“I would have seen somebody behind me (if the video board was in game mode),” he said. “I didn’t really know. I didn’t really feel the presence. I wasn’t too sure. I didn’t even hear him.
“They had the speakers playing with the loud crowd so I couldn’t even hear if there were any footsteps coming behind me. I wasn’t too sure and I felt my ankle get swept and I was like `Oh man.’ ”
As it was, James turned in another routinely-effective performance, finishing unofficially with 115 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the situation-dominated scrimmage.
“I think it’s a great reminder of what he is,” head coach Kyle Flood said.
The only damper on James’ big run was a sideline penalty by an excited group of teammates.
“He’s a big back and he can run and it would have been nice if he could have gotten into the end zone,” Flood said. “But the reality is it was coming back anyway. We had a sideline penalty, which is a point of emphasis this year in college football, and everybody has to be out of the white (along the sideline). It’s a great teachable moment. It’s not something I’m happy about but it’s definitely a teachable moment in the scrimmage.”
James, meanwhile, said he was embracing the return to contact . A year ago, the 6-0, 205-pound junior led Rutgers in rushing with 881 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing four full games to a lower leg injury.
“I’m a person that enjoys contact so I couldn’t wait to get back to it, using my shoulders, running through people until it basically becomes second nature running through people,” James said.
Quarterbacks Gary Nova and Chris Laviano, wide receiver Carlton Agudosi and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph, filling in for the injured (though not seriously, according to Flood) Darius Hamilton were the other standouts in the scrimmage.
Unofficially, Nova was a controlled 9-of-14 for 190 yards and three touchdowns; Laviano was 15-of-21 for 210 yards and four touchdown passes and Agudosi had four catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns, one on a heave from Nova from 41 yards away on a final play situation. He also caught a two-point conversion.