MOUNTAIN CITY — With one change of address, Johnson County's football and basketball programs got quite a bit bigger.
Nick James returned to his old stomping grounds for his senior season, and at 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds he was welcomed back with open arms.
Football coach Mike Atwood certainly is happy with a nose guard who will likely require constant double-team efforts from opponents, but basketball coach Austin Atwood was even more excited.
“He was happier than I was,” said Mike Atwood at the Longhorns' football media day Thursday. “He was doing cartwheels. He already had four pretty good scorers coming back, but (James) does stuff we couldn't do — his body, his presence.”
First things first, James figures to be a foundation point for the Longhorns' defense in football.
“We've had transfers before, but we haven't gotten a transfer who could really help us,” said Atwood. “We hope Nick will be different.”
James played football in Mountain City through seventh grade, but his family decided to move to Attica, N.Y., which is about 40 miles away from Buffalo and the site of the famous prison riot in 1971.
Playing at Attica High School, James built his reputation along both the offensive and defensive lines. He said he wants to continue playing football at the next level, and has already received a lot of interest.
“I've gotten 100 letters,” said James. “I want to go to Tennessee, and they sent me a letter. I need to get my grades up, and dominate on the field this year.”
Football is the focus, said James.
“I do basketball to keep in shape,” he said. “And I lift weights every day of my life.”
It all started as a fifth grader in Mountain City. Standing 5-8 and weighing 185 pounds, James had good size but wasn't exactly towering over people.
By the time he was a freshman in New York, he was 6-3. He grew two more inches over the past year.
When he moved to New York, he didn't lose touch with his friends from Mountain City — visiting buddies like running back Patrick South on occasion. Therefore, when he moved back it wasn't a huge transition.
“I fit right in,” said James.
However, football practices have been a different animal.
“We've had a lot tougher practices here,” said James. “I've never been pushed this hard. The coaches are tough down here.”
Part of the harder practices has been the heat. James said he can feel the difference.
Another part is Atwood's tough approach, which usually spills over into a hard-nosed team. James talked about running the Longhorn Mile each day at 6 a.m. After the run, players carry a teammate as they climb the stadium steps.
Atwood said he likes what he has seen from James to this point.
“So far he has been a great kid,” said Atwood. “He has done everything we've asked him to do.”
James runs a 5.3 in the 40, and his You Tube video shows him delivering a downfield block from a fullback position. He also pancakes a few linemen, and wraps up several running backs who venture into the nose-tackle zone.
“He's definitely got the desire and the size,” said Atwood. “And he's really a hard worker. He will definitely be a big help.”
James said he believes the Longhorns will have a good year.
“We're going to be near the top of the league,” said James. “I have faith. We have hard workers, every single one of them.”