Darius James was the most highly touted member of Texas’ 2013 class, but he arrived in Austin this month with a considerable chip on his shoulder.
The nation’s No. 17 overall prospect from Killeen (Texas) Harker Heights is hungry to prove he deserved that acclaim after missing nearly his entire senior season with a broken left foot.
With his best friend Naashon Hughes by his side, James has his eyes on the prize: He wants to start from day one, and he wants to win a national title.
HornsNation: Your career as a Texas Longhorn is about to begin. How does that feel?
Darius James: It’s so surreal. It’s pretty crazy. The more it gets closer, the more nervous I get. Everybody is telling you to get hyped for college and how everyone in college is so much faster and bigger. You don’t know how you match up to that. You’re ready for that, but it’s still a little crazy.
HN: You’ve been hearing for a long time that you’ll play right away when you get to Texas. Do you feel ready for that challenge?
James: I feel like I’m ready for anything. But there’s also the fact that you’re playing with seniors who are four or five years older than you. I’m just going to go in there scared and pissed off.
HN: You spent this spring having to get back in shape following your injury. How did that go?
James: The spring was hell. It was pretty crazy. It was a lot of vigorous work and running and tires and weights. I’ve been going to a trainer and he’s been helping me get my weight down. I went from 360 to now I’m like 329 pounds.
HN: How do you feel when you look back on missing so much of your senior season? Are there mixed emotions?
James: Oh yes, very mixed emotions. I feel like if I would’ve played this year, I would’ve been one of the best out there. But it’s in the past. You can’t change anything in the past. I’m just ready to go out there and try to be the best player in college.
HN: Did being sidelined show you how much Texas wanted you, considering they stood by you throughout?
James: Oh yes sir. They showed a lot of love for me. Coach Stacy Searels and I still called each other all the time, and we have a very good relationship.
HN: What has he told you to expect for this fall?
James: He told me to come in there and expect to be working for a starting job. Everytime I ask, I’ll say, "Hey Coach, what position do you think I should specialize in with my workouts?" I’ll ask him what I’m going to be playing. He tells me, "You’re going to be playing football, son!" I ask what position. He says, "O-line."
HN: We project you as an interior lineman, but you also played tackle at the Under Armour All-America Game. How did that go for you?
James: It was fun as heck to get out there on the edge with those fast guys and try to lock into a couple of them and make some key blocks. It was very humbling to play in that because I was just another one of the guys. Nobody had seen me play during the season and everybody wrote me off. It was a great proving ground.
HN: Excited to know you might face Robert Nkemdiche again when Ole Miss comes to Austin this season?
James: That’s going to be great. I can’t wait. You always want to go against the best, and you can’t call yourself the best if you haven’t gone against them.
HN: If you hadn’t signed with Texas, what school do you think you’d be attending today?
James: Well, the top two would’ve been Florida and Alabama. I like their recruiting classes and all the players they brought in.
HN: The coaching staff was a big reason you stuck with Texas. What impression did Mack Brown make on you during your recruitment?
James: He’s the perfect head coach. He knows how to work with all the high school coaches and he doesn’t B.S. anyone. When I went to Texas camp as a freshman, he came in and was straight out with it. From then on, I knew he was a good guy. I just felt comfortable with him.
HN: You went to a bunch of home games last year. Is the Texas offensive line going to be the big difference between where they are and where they want to be as a team?
James: Yes sir. We have all the athletes in the world. We have three or four really good running backs. We’ve got slot and outside receivers. Everything is there, except for the offensive line. That’s what we’re going to fix.
HN: What does it mean to go through all this with Naashon and Camrhon Hughes?
James: It’s the best thing in the world. When you can be successful with people you grow up with, it’s the best thing ever. We always said we’d play together, but if it came down to it we didn’t have to go to the same school. To play against each other might be even more fun. But everything just felt right. There were more pros than cons.
HN: How critical is the summer for you in terms of proving that you’re in the shape it takes to start this fall?
James: It’s the most critical of all. If I go in there out of shape, the coaches are going to look at me and think, "You weren’t even trying." So I’ve got something to prove. We’ve just got to go in there, start winning and get this program turned around.
HN: What’s your biggest goal for this freshman season?
James: My personal goal for the season is to go in there, get me a spot and try to win some games. It’s not going to be easy. No challenge that’s easy is worth going for. I like hard challenges. The challenge every year is going to be a national championship.