Morgan James is the only player in college football who can be seen on hockeyfights.com.
James is a 25-year-old former minor league hockey player who has joined the UC football team as a preferred walk-on.
“I’ve never played a down of football in my life,” said James. “I’ve been an ice hockey player since day one. But I’ve always been a football fan and it’s always been a dream of mine to play. Even though I’m further along in my life than most of these guys, I’m coming back to fulfil that.”
James says he began training to make the transition from hockey to football about a year ago. Video of him lifting weights and doing football drills can be seen on YouTube.
“That was part of what I did to get my name out there,” he said. “I made a couple of workout videos to show what I’m doing and show what I’ve got and I sent that around to some colleges. I had a lot of Division II interest and Division I-AA (FCS), but I’m confident that I can be a football player so I wanted to come to a great school like Cincinnati.”
But how did he wind up at UC?
“A high school coach that (Co-Defensive Coordinator) Steve Clinkscale knows brought him and another young man down to one of our camps,” said offensive line coach Darren Hiller. “He worked out with the defensive lineman during the camp and then toward the end of the camp I put him through some offensive line drills. We filmed it and after we got done with camp, we watched all of the guys that we thought were possible prospects. We looked at him because of his sheer size and athletic ability.”
“He’s got a body that you would go out and recruit,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville.
James is 6’6”, 295 pounds, and has been timed at 4.9 in the 40-yard dash.
At Camp Higher Ground on Sunday, James lined up with the third string offense at right tackle.
“Today was the first day that we put him in a team setting,” said Hiller. “Before today we just had him in individual drills teaching him what a zone block was, what a down block was, what a double-team block was, and what a pass block was. When he was pointed in the right direction it was pretty good.”
“It’s a lot of information at once and I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t confusing,” said James. “But I’m doing my best to learn and I’m thankful to have great coaches like Coach Hiller and Coach (Austen) Bujnoch to help me.”
“He is starting from scratch when it comes to football knowledge,” said Hiller. “We actually had to explain where the quarterback was and that he called the plays. It was kind of comical, but it’s really unique because he has great athletic ability.”
So why didn’t he ever play football?
“I started playing hockey at a very young age and invested everything in playing hockey every single day,” said James. “That’s all I did.”
The Michigan native played professionally for two years and admits that his role was often to be the team enforcer.
“I played for the Louisiana IceGators and the Columbus Cottonmouths for the majority of my time,” said James. “In the minor leagues I did play the role of an enforcer. There’s been a lot of talk about that in the locker room here and a lot of jokes. The videos have been floating around – that’s for sure.”
Despite his age, James has four years of football eligibility remaining at Cincinnati.
“He’s like a ball of clay that we’re going to try to mold,” said Hiller.
“We’ve started from ground zero with him,” said Tuberville. “It will be interesting to see how much he develops in a couple of years.
“He’s a good kid. He doesn’t say anything. He just wants to play football and it’s going to be fun to watch him.”
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