By Alex Norman
Ju’Wuan James arrived in Knoxville in January of 2010 expecting to play for Lane Kiffin. Instead it would be three years of Derek Dooley and one year of Butch Jones. There wasn’t a bowl game trip to be had, or even a winning season.
But at the end of the day, that helped James get to where he is today.
The National Football League.
James was selected with the 19th pick of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.
“Because I had several coaches at Tennessee I learned a lot when it came to fundamentals and just the experiences,” said James in a recent phone interview with The Knoxville Focus. “I think it made me more valuable (to NFL teams) because I had the experience of playing in different offensive systems, with different coaches…”
James added, “Playing in the SEC helped too. You play the best week in and week out at Tennessee, be it Dont’a Hightower (Alabama linebacker, now with the New England Patriots), Courtney Upshaw (Alabama linebacker, now with the Baltimore Ravens) or Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina defensive end, now with the Houston Texans).
James was a stalwart on that Vols offensive line, no matter which quarterback he was protecting or which running back he blocked for to open up holes… James started all 49 games of his Tennessee career at right tackle, setting the all-time UT record for starts by an offensive lineman.
“I take a lot of pride in being a VFL (Vol For Life),” said James. “It’s true. I still remember visiting UT while in high school. My host was Eric Berry (former Vol All-American, now Pro Bowl safety for the Kansas City Chiefs). I hope that I am leaving the same kind of legacy for a kid trying to get to the next level.”
James plans on maintaining his connection with his alma mater, and had some positive things to say about the future of the Tennessee football program.
“I think Butch Jones is a great coach,” said James. “He helped me a lot, and I know he is going to get those guys prepared and will get the most effort out of all of them.”
James wasn’t the only Tennessee offensive lineman selected in the 2014 NFL draft. Zach Fulton was picked by Kansas City in the sixth round. In all that entire Vols offensive line is gone from a year ago. But James has confidence in their replacements.
“I’ve watched them develop,” James said. “I want them to create a new identity and do even better than we did.”
James will watch Tennessee from afar while concentrating on the beginning of his professional football career. He will play his first game on Sunday at home against the Patriots. James says that he hasn’t had much time to explore, but has no complaints when it comes to the weather, the people or the fans of the South Beach area.
Miami is the place he expected to be, and the place he wants to be.
“I had several visits with the Dolphins coaches, and had a lot of contact with them through the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine,” said James. “I had a good idea this is where I was going.”
James will be working to keep the jersey of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill clean. Tannehill is entering his third season in the pros, and could be poised for a breakout season.
“He’s a great leader,” said James. “After I was drafted he texted me, told me that it was time to work. He does a good job, he is vocal… he’s fast and has really good aim. He’s a great quarterback.”
As for James’s expectations for his rookie season, “I’m working on my craft every day… it is a big jump from college. You need to be consistent, and you can’t make the little mistakes in the trenches.”