Mike Preston: Former New Town multi-sport star Brandon James ready to turn the corner at Maryland | COMMENTARY

The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun

If University of Maryland football coach Mike Locksley hasn’t heard about Brandon James, he will soon. James might even knock on Lockley’s office door and introduce himself.

Nearly a month ago, James was granted a full scholarship to run track and field at Maryland. The coronavirus pandemic and a hamstring injury forced him to miss his final two years of eligibility at Morgan State, but the Terps made him an offer, along with Nebraska and Louisville, when he entered the NCAA transfer portal.

James never played high school football, but he is extremely athletic. He can walk into almost any basketball gym, break some ankles and pump in about 20 points. At New Town High School in Owings Mills, he played point guard for the basketball team and averaged nearly six goals as a lacrosse midfielder before he concentrated solely on indoor and outdoor track as a senior.

Oh, and before he gave up those other sports, he did play receiver for the football team for a day or two until his track coach, Jordan Davis, advised him not to participate. But even after watching one practice, assistant football coaches from Maryland and Morgan State got him out of class to talk about playing for their programs.

“Brandon was always a freak athlete who could play any sport he chose to play and excel,” said New Town athletic director Preston Waters, a former starting cornerback at West Virginia. “He always had that type of speed which transferred from sport to sport, which ultimately gave him an advantage. With his IQ, you just had to put him in a position where he could succeed.

“We’ve all known people with straight-ahead speed, but once you put them in pads, it’s like they are running in quicksand. I think he could be one heck of a receiver.”

But let’s not jump so far ahead.

At New Town, he was the state indoor champion in the 300 and 500 meters and won state outdoor titles in the 200 and 400. He has a personal best of 10.5 seconds in the 100, 21.1 seconds in the 200 and 47.8 seconds in the 400. The pandemic and a prolonged hamstring/knee injury shortened his career at Morgan, which ended Saturday at graduation with a bachelor of science degree in marketing, but Maryland will allow him to earn another degree in psychology.

According to James, 22, it was just time to leave Morgan.

“The head coach and I were having some differences, and Maryland, because it’s a bigger school with more facilities and resources, would allow more opportunities,” he said. “Previously, I never really thought I had a chance to fully heal myself, but now I am running, lifting and sprinting without any problems or discomfort.

“When Maryland first started recruiting me, they came a little soft because I was kind of an at-risk athlete. But I went to the NCAA Regional Championships when I was a freshman [at Morgan], so they know I can do it.”

But it wasn’t always about times and distances. Terps assistant track coach Garfield Ellenwood loved James’ attitude.

“He had run some good times out of high school, and I felt like there was more in the tank where he could definitely improve,” Ellenwood said. “Once I had a conversation with him, I really liked him. He had a confidence about him that you look for in sprinters. I saw a lot of myself in him, knew this was my type of athlete.”

It’s called being cocky.

Some might call it confidence, but James goes over the line. Yet that’s part of what of what makes him successful. While playing lacrosse at New Town, James never came off the field. He was part of a dying breed in the sport, a two-way midfielder who played both offense and defense. The only time he rested was when he was moved to attack.

“I just got bored with it,” James said when asked why he stopped playing lacrosse. “In lacrosse, you have to manage your speed, you don’t have to go full speed all the time. I always knew that I was fast, but I didn’t know I was that fast.”

Ask James about his future goals, and he spits them out without any hesitation.

“I want to go pro in track, go to the NFL, get a gold in the Olympics, in the 200-meter dash,” he said. “When I come out in 2024, it will be time for the next Olympics, and I want to be ready for it.”

Ellenwood said the 2024 Olympics in Paris are a possibility.

“With his confidence and background, anything is possible,” Ellenwood said. “I think a lot of athletes, maybe not the ‘A’ [level] kid, but that ‘B’ or ‘C’ kid, have that ‘A’ drive and want to develop, then the Olympics is a possibility, so I can’t say he can’t be the next.”

James wasn’t always so goal-driven, but acknowledges his father, Glenn, kept things in perspective and motivated him. If his father hadn’t instilled the confidence, he wouldn’t have been able to play multiple sports.

Becoming so goal-oriented didn’t kick in until his senior year, which is why James goes back to New Town to speak to athletes about working hard.

“I tell them the formula, and you just can’t be average,” he said. “Everybody wants to go to a Division I college, but they don’t always want to put in the time and work. There were times when I could get lazy, but none of the scholarships and the accolades would have come if I were not willing to do the work, which I did in my senior year.

“Hard work is the easy part now. Discipline, that’s really nothing anymore.”

That discipline is what James is hoping will get him to a pro track career, the Olympics and the NFL. He said he recently posted a 38-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 11 feet, 1 inch without training. In comparison, college football players spend months preparing for the NFL scouting combine. For example, Ravens rookie cornerback Damarion Williams, a fourth-round draft pick out of Houston, had a 34.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 11-8.

Rookie running back Tyler Badie, a sixth-round pick from Missouri, recorded a vertical jump of 33.5 and broad jump of 12-1.

It’s highly unlikely Maryland’s track officials would ever allow James to play football as a receiver or a kick returner, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the 6-foot, 160-pound James had some type of NFL pro day, especially if participates in the Olympics.

“He has always been an athletic freak who can do whatever he wanted,” Waters said.

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