As a senior at Edwardsville High School in 2011-12, Cameron James was one of the top two-sport athletes in the Southwestern Conference.
A gifted sprinter who helped lead Edwardsville to a second-place finish at the Class 3A state track meet, James was also one of the top running backs in the SWC, leading the Tigers with nearly 780 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns.
With football as his first love, James wanted to play at the collegiate level. The problem was, nobody was offering. Nobody except McKendree University.
“I had one offer and it was from McKendree,” James said. “Was I upset? Honestly, no not really. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I had to do what was best for me and my future and that was go to McKendree.”
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To say that James decision to attend McKendree was a wise one is an understatement.
Now nearly four years later, James will conclude his collegiate career later this fall as one of the top and most versatile players in Bearcats history. The 5-foot-8 160-pound James has played wide receiver for just over two years, but going into Saturday’s 50-27 victory at West Liberty University his 101 career receptions was just six shy of the school record. He also was fourth in receiving yards with 995.
James also entered his senior season fourth in touchdown receptions (nine), seventh in scoring by a non-kicker (120 points), first in kickoff returns with 52 and second in kick-return yards with 1,151. James also was in the top five in punt return and punt return yards and his 3,474 all-purpose yards ranked third.
In Saturday’s win at West Liberty, James caught five passes for 27 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaac Fisher just 16 seconds before halftime to give the Bearcats a 30-13 lead.
A three-time second team all Great Lakes Valley Conference selection, James started his season with a bang last week in McKendree’s 68-0 win over College of Faith.
After collecting an 11-yard touchdown pass from Fisher on the Bearcats first series, James displayed his open field talents with punt returns of 48 and 71 yards for touchdowns as McKendree (1-0) took a 21-0 lead with less than seven minutes gone in the game.
“That’s the kind of player Cameron is. He has the ability to score every time he touches the football,” McKendree third-year coach Mike Babcock said. “But if you ask him, he’ll give most of the credit to the guys blocking for him. That’s just the type of young man Cameron James is. He’s a total team player and just a real leader on this football team.”
James achievements at McKendree don’t end on the football field.
Winner of the 60-meter dash at the GLVC Indoor Track and Field Championships last year, James went on to finish fifth in the event at the NCAA Division II Championships.
Also one of the GLVC’s best in the 100 and 200, James was also a member of the Bearcats’ 400 relay.
But for all his accomplishments in track and field, James first love will always be football.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play football,” James said. “Just the thrill of being out there with 10 other guys working for one common goal. It’s the same way in track and field. I’d say the 4x100 relay is my favorite event. Just being part of a team and see all the work put in to being successful, that’s exciting.”
James — brother of Minnesota sophomore running back Craig James — played running back during his freshman year, leading the team in rushing with 537 yards and seven touchdowns. But when Babcock became McKendree’s coach, James made the switch to wide receiver.
“When the idea came up about switching positions. I was fine with it,” James said. “I’m like, whatever was best for the team is what I wanted to do.”
Still spending time in the backfield, James rushed for 274 yards and caught 28 passes his sophomore year. Making a name for himself as a triple-threat offensive player, James was also twice named GLVC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Last season, James blossomed into one of the NCAA Division II wide receivers in the nation, catching a team-leading 61 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2015, James once again should be one of the top wide receivers in the nation as he teams with Fisher to form one of the top combinations in the GLVC. And while individual honors would be nice, it’s the GLVC title James and his teammates want the most.
“There is a different feeling around this football team this year,” James said. “We’ve got a great senior class and as a football team we’re so much closer than we’ve been before.
“Everybody had a great off-season and summer and it’s just a great feeling when you’ve got one team which has worked so hard for one common goal — the GLVC title. We all know that we’ve got to be ready to play hard for 60 minutes each week and we’ve prepared ourselves to do just that. We feel that if we do that and things go our way, then we can beat anybody in the league.”
James will be back at McKendree next season for one final year of indoor track and field. His long range goals are to be a coach. But no matter where the future takes him, James will always view McKendree University and Lebanon as a place he will hold close to his heart.
“Like I said, I believe that everything happens for a reason. The decision for me to come to McKendree was the best one I have made in my life,” James said, “I’ve had the opportunity to live in a great community, live and get to know many kind and wonderful people I know will be friends of mine for the rest of my life and I’ve had the opportunity to play a sport that I love with a group of people who are like my family and get a great education. McKendree is a great place.”
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.