He might have been standing on the opposite sideline and on the opposite side of the ball but, football-wise, things have come full circle for former NFL All-Pro Edgerrin James.
James began his illustrious football career as a kid playing Pop Warner for the Immokalee Braves at Gary Bates Stadium. It’s the same field he would later star for Immokalee High School.
After 11 years in the NFL, mostly with the Indianapolis Colts, a Super Bowl and four Pro Bowls, James found himself on Saturday taking the gridiron once again at Gary Bates Stadium.
Though James is the Miami Hurricanes all-time second leading rusher, it is with a new set of Hurricanes he finds himself involved with — the Naples Hurricanes’ Mighty Mite team.
James is their coach. His son, Edgerrin Jr., is the team’s quarterback.
James wanted the players to focus on today. But with everything around him, helplessly, James was caught up in yesterday.
“Played right here,” said James, 35, who rushed for 12,246 yards and 80 scores in his NFL days. “The Immokalee Braves. Same field. Same everything.”
Well, not everything was the same. The Braves have become the Seminoles, whom the Hurricanes played. And instead of James standing on the Immokalee sideline, he was standing on the opposing one.
“First time ever I went against anything Immokalee,” he said. “Wasn’t conflicted. I know all the kids. It’s youth football. It was actually really fun. My son never got the chance to see me play high school football, so he had a lot of questions. That was pretty cool.”
James is finding coaching a team of 8-year-olds to be pretty cool indeed. With their 31-6 victory on Saturday, the Hurricanes have improved to 7-1. He’s having a ball watching the kids run double-reverses or even sometimes a no-huddle offense.
“Edgerrin is one of the most devoted coaches we’ve ever had,” said Hurricanes athletic director Rich Koert. “He is completely devoted to the kids and our program. To see a great player like him do what he is doing sets an example for all youth coaches.”
Youth football has changed dramatically since James’ playing days with the Braves. There are more leagues, more teams and more intensity. Youth players’ stats and combine times are now entered into national databases by scouting services and sold to high school and college programs.
For some, youth football has become a moneymaking venture.
James sees another downside.
“Now, it’s just so many different leagues,” he said. “You don’t get the best of the best because all the talent is scattered about. When we played, you had to make the team.”
From the pros to Pop Warner, another issue that runs throughout all levels of football is safety. Many parents are concerned about allowing their children to play a collision sport at such a young age.
James allays those fears.
“Once (parents) get informed and see what it takes, and if their kids are coached the right way, they’ll let their kids play, “ he said. “You just have to make sure the coaches are doing their part.
“Sometimes adults are putting their personal feelings in and that can hurt the kids. As along as things are done the right way, it’s not a problem. When kids are taught the wrong way, that’s where there is a problem and that starts at youth football.”
Regardless of the issues and concerns youth football faces, Saturday reminded James what the game is truly about.
“My son is giving me a chance to relive it,” James said. “You don’t realize youth football is the funnest time in your life until you play at the highest levels.
“I went to the highest levels of the game. I played in a Super Bowl. But, hands down, youth football is way better than that. That’s what I want these kids to find out.”