There was no question that Nick James had all the physical tools to play right away when he arrived at Mississippi State in 2012.
And play he did.
James appeared in eight games as a true freshman and made six tackles while clogging the middle at defensive tackle with his massive 6-foot-5, 340-pound body at the time.
But in 2013 a difficult and unorthodox decision was made to redshirt the Long Beach native to allow both his body and mind to mature. During that time James practiced with the Bulldogs but did dress out in any games that fall.
“Basically it was just a learning experience,” James said. “I could really sit back and watch football and actually learn. It was beneficial. I was pretty big my freshman year and I shed off some pounds. I killed the weight room. I also learned to sit back and keep some stuff in my mind and not always pop off at the mouth.”
The newly transformed James – both mentally and physically – returned to the gridiron this past season. The former four-star prospect appeared in all 13 games where he racked up 11 tackles, three quarterback hurries and blocked a kick.
MSU’s five week stint at No. 1 and run to the Orange Bowl in 2014 sent the program to new heights. James felt like their success on the field gave the entire team confidence heading into the offseason.
“This boosted us up a lot,” James said. “It raises our standards. Now we’ve got to go to a better bowl and keep going. We have to climb up the ladder. Coach (Dan) Mullen‘s plan is working out and we’re taking steps. I said when I came here I wanted to put my state back on the map.”
During his stint in Starkville, James has had the advantage working as an understudy to Josh Boyd, Dewayne Cherrington, Kaleb Eulls, P.J. Jones and Curtis Virges. With those guys now gone, it is up to James, Chris Jones and others to fill their shoes moving forward.
“A lot of our d-linemen have been here for five years so I watched them and saw how the job was done,” James said. “We learned from them and have to keep believing. They led and we followed so now it’s our turn to step up and be big time guys.”