If University of Maryland football coach Mike Locksley hasn’t heard of Brandon James, he will soon. James might even knock on Lockley’s office door and introduce himself.
Almost a month ago, James was awarded a full scholarship to track and field in Maryland. The coronavirus pandemic and a hamstring injury forced him to miss his last two years of eligibility at Morgan State, but the Terps, along with Nebraska and Louisville, made him an offer when he entered the NCAA transfer portal.
James has never played high school football, but he is extremely athletic. He can walk into almost any basketball gym, break a couple of knuckles and pump in about 20 points. At New Town High School in Owings Mills, he played point guard for the basketball team and averaged nearly six goals as a lacrosse midfielder before focusing solely on the inside and outside lane as a senior.
Oh, and before he gave up those other sports, he played receiver for the soccer team for a day or two until his track coach, Jordan Davis, advised him not to participate. But even after he saw a practice, assistant football coaches from Maryland and Morgan State pulled him out of class to talk about playing for their programs.
“Brandon has always been a freak athlete who could play any sport he chose and excel,” said New Town athletic director Preston Waters, a former West Virginia cornerback. “He always had that kind of speed that carried over from sport to sport, which ultimately gave him an advantage. With his IQ, all you had to do was put him in a position where he could succeed.
“We all know people with straight-line speeds, but once you put them in pads, it’s like running in quicksand. I think he could be a hell of a receiver.”
But let’s not jump that far ahead.
In New Town he was the indoor state champion in the 300 and 500 meters and won the outdoor state titles in the 200 and 400 meters. He has personal bests of 10.5 seconds over 100, 21.1 seconds over 200 and 47.8 seconds over 400. The pandemic and an ongoing Achilles tendon/knee injury shortened his career at Morgan, who graduated on Saturday with his Bachelor of Science in Marketing ended, but Maryland will allow him to pursue another degree in Psychology.
According to James, 22, it was time to leave Morgan.
“The head coach and I had some disagreements, and Maryland, because it’s a bigger school with more facilities and resources, would offer more opportunities,” he said. “I used to never really think I had a chance to fully heal, but now I run, lift and sprint with no problems or discomfort.
“When Maryland started recruiting me, they were a little soft because I was kind of a high-risk athlete. But I went to the NCAA Regional Championships as a freshman [at Morgan]so they know I can do it.”
But it wasn’t always about times and distances. Terp’s assistant track coach Garfield Ellenwood loved James’ attitude.
“He’s had some good times out of high school and I felt like there was more in the tank where he could definitely improve,” said Ellenwood. “After talking to him, I really liked him. He had a confidence you look for in sprinters. I saw a lot of myself in him, knew that was my type of athlete.”
That’s called being cocky.
Some call it confidence, but James pushes the envelope. But that’s part of what makes him successful. While playing lacrosse at New Town, James never came off the field. He belonged to a dying breed in the sport, a two-way midfielder who played both offense and defense. He only rested when moved to attack.
“It just bored me,” James said when asked why he quit playing lacrosse. “In lacrosse you have to control your speed, you don’t always have to go flat out. I always knew I was fast, but I didn’t know I was that fast.”
Ask James about his future goals and he’ll spit them out without hesitation.
“I want to be a pro in track and field, go to the NFL, win gold at the Olympics, 200 meters,” he said. “When I come out in 2024 it will be time for the next Olympics and I want to be ready for that.”
Ellenwood said the Paris 2024 Olympics was a possibility.
“With his confidence and background, anything is possible,” said Ellenwood. “I think a lot of athletes, maybe not the ‘A’ [level] Kid but this ‘B’ or ‘C’ kid has that ‘A’ drive and wants to move on, then the Olympics is a possibility so I can’t say he can’t be next.
James wasn’t always so goal oriented, but admits his father Glenn kept an eye on things and motivated him. If his father hadn’t instilled in him the confidence, he wouldn’t have been able to play multiple sports.
Getting so goal-oriented didn’t start until his senior year, which is why James returns to New Town to talk to athletes about working hard.
“I tell you the formula and you just can’t be average,” he said. “Everyone wants to go to a Division I college, but they don’t always want to put in the time and effort. There were times when I could get lazy, but none of the scholarships and awards would have come if I hadn’t been willing to do the work I did my senior year.
“Hard work is now the easy part. Discipline, that’s really nothing more.”
It’s this discipline that James hopes will lead him to a professional career, the Olympics and the NFL. He said he recently posted a 38-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot, 1-inch long jump with no training. By comparison, college football players spend months preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine. For example, Ravens rookie cornerback Damarion Williams, a fourth-round draft pick from Houston, had a 34.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-8 long jump.
Rookie running back Tyler Badie, a sixth-round pick from Missouri, recorded a 33.5 vertical jump and 12-1 long jump.
It’s highly unlikely that Maryland track officials would ever allow James to play football as a receiver or kick returner, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the 6-foot, 160-pound James had some sort of NFL pro tag , especially if he takes part in The Olympic Games.
“He’s always been an athletic freak who can do whatever he wants,” Waters said.