Freshman RB James a developing situation

Sampson James has been in Bloomington for a while now.

The incoming four-star, freshman running back from Avon was an early enrollee at Indiana in January and has made the most of his six-month head start.

“When I first came here I was 190 pounds,” the 6-foot-1 James said this week. “I’m now 220 pounds. So I’ve put on 30 pounds of muscle and been able to work with Dr. (Matt) Rhea, our speed coach. He’s definitely improved me as well. I feel great at my weight. I feel faster than I’ve ever been. I feel like it’s been very productive in the weight room.

“Credit to both Coach (David) Ballou and his staff and Dr. Rhea, they have really developed me.”

Before the Hoosiers got the chance to develop James physically, they had to develop the relationship that brought him to Bloomington.

That’s where IU head coach Tom Allen comes in.

Allen knew James long before he was an IU target, having recruited his older brother, Elijah Daniel, while at Mississippi. Daniel wound up at Auburn.

“(Sampson) was in that home when I was there to take multiple visits, got to really know him at that point,” Allen said in his December signing day news conference. “He grew older. And you end up getting into high school and got to know him. And his high school team, with (coach) Mark Bless, would come to camp here every year, got to see him in that setting.

“… So bottom line was I felt like I knew the kid. I knew his upbringing at home. I knew his situation. I knew about his toughness. I knew about his work ethic in the weight room. I knew the kind of character he had and knew he was a really good football player.”

That relationship made it all the more painful when James initially committed to Ohio State in the spring of 2018, but it also provided a basis for staying in touch.

“I was really disappointed when he committed to Ohio State,” Allen said. “We took the approach we’re going to respect it and talked to him about it, said, ‘Hey, you made your decision, and I know it’s still early and all.’

“We didn’t harass him, but we stayed with him, subtly stayed with him, and let him know that we’re still here and sent him some messages. And sometimes he responded and sometimes he wouldn’t. But it wasn’t like — he was all in to go to Ohio State. But at the same time, we just stayed the course.”

That consistency paid off last fall when James began to rethink his college decision.

“(Coach Allen) just always being there, staying with me even when I was committed to Ohio State,” James said. “He was always there, letting me know that Indiana is still a place of home for me. Him staying with me throughout the process definitely meant a lot to me making my decision.”

Said Allen: “It was his decision to come back and to say, ‘You know what, this is where I want to be. This is where I want to call home, and this is where I want to play, and I can achieve all my goals at Indiana,’ which is the things we told him all along.

“Once he came to the realization that’s what he believed, too, this is where he called home.”

Now James hopes to make himself at home on the field.

Getting on campus early was a big first step.

“Just being able to learn the plays was a huge thing, learn the playbook,” said James, who did not play in the spring game following a minor medical procedure. “Taking classes, getting acclimated in that was a huge thing for me. By now, I’m good. I’ve been here for a full semester, so I feel pretty comfortable being here. It definitely was an advantage coming early.”

With Stevie Scott the incumbent starter after a breakout freshman campaign, James is walking into an ideal running backs room.

“Stevie, he’s a great guy, he’s really a hard runner,” James said. “I’ve been learning a lot from him, a lot of different things. We’re going to push each other, and it’s going to be great.”

At the same time, James isn’t lacking for confidence that he can put his own unique imprint on the offense under first-year offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.

“I feel like I’m a complete back,” James said. “I can block, I can catch out of the backfield, I can be a downhill runner if I want to, I can make somebody miss if I want to. I feel like I can do most all of it.”

He’s a fan of former Oklahoma and current Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson, in particular Peterson’s 2012 MVP season with the Minnesota Vikings after suffering a torn MCL and ACL the year before.

“I watched him when I was at Oklahoma, some clips from him, and definitely when he was on the Vikings,” James said. “How he overcame that injury and had that breakout season, that was huge. Definitely my favorite running back of all-time.”

If James lives up to the hype, he could well be one of IU fans’ favorite running backs, but right now he just wants to keep developing.

“I don’t tend to really worry about the expectations,” James said. “I just look to get better in every aspect. I’m just trying to learn from other guys and pick up everything I can my freshman season and play my hardest, make sure the effort and everything is there. I just tend to stay focused on what I need to do.”

21 comments

  1. James and Penix are two very highly ranked recruits. They must be good this year. On defense Coach Allen has no problems giving young players a real chance to shine. But on offense he has been way to conservative. Put these talents on the field, early and often. This is year 3. While your contract is solid with the administration, your future with the fans is this year. Year 3 of the Allen Era must be the “Breakthrough” season. Do not hold back!

    1. Coach Allen turned the office over to coach DeBord rightfully or wrongly and any conservatism came from him as much or more than coach Allen. I think it is telling that our new OC coach DeBoer is now coaching QBs so Penix and Tuttle have every chance to beat out Ramsey this year but it is on them to do that very thing.

      IU definitely needs a more dynamic QB and watching BTN it is clear that teams that turned things around had that QB. Even coach Wilson’s teams struggled on offense without Sudfeld, 2014 injury and 2016 after he graduated. It is clear to me that if IU is to win more games Penix or Tuttle need to be the starting QB. I hope coach DeBoer is willing to take a chance on making the offense much better than in the past two years.

      1. Exactly! To breakthrough you have to take chances! It should be a 3-man even, open competition, not “beating out” Peyton!

  2. His 30 lbs. weight gain almost assures James will get playing time this season. Had he stayed at 190 – 195, he’d be too light to earn a lot of carries against Big Ten defenses. TA has said that he does not intend his backs to carry the ball an average of 30 times per game because he wants them to have mileage left when they try to make it in the pros. Unless James is a fumbler, and I’ve never heard that he is, I think he and Scott will be splitting the majority of the carries on offense. And along with those two, TA has two others who can carry the ball. So unless the injury bug bites, IU’s running backs should be in great shape.

    The real question I have is about the O-line. How good will they be? Doesn’t matter how good your backs are if the O-line can’t open any holes for them.

  3. The OLine is a huge question mark in terms of talent, experience and depth. Hope that unit surprises.

  4. As V13 already mentioned, I believe QB play will have as much to do with the success of the OL as talent, depth, and experience. You have to have a QB willing to hang in the pocket with confidence in order for the OL to know what to expect from their QB. Granted, the QB can get the old “happy feet,” if he doesn’t believe his OL can hold their blocks. However, a QB with a good enough arm to keep the defense honest in terms of forcing them out of the 8, 9, and 10 men in the box strategies we saw last year, should make life a whole lot easier for the OL.

  5. One month away from the start of Fall practice and we will see how our QBs look and who has the real chance at being the starter. Who the QB is will go along way to determine how the OL plays because it will determine how defenses play our offense. From Spring Practice the OL is said to be very good with the 1st group but we need to get our 2nd group of OL some experience which should happen in the first two games.

    There is much to like about the offense this year – new OC, downfield passes, new formations, very good RB room and receiver room, talented TEs, QB room with two 4 star QBs and one QB with two year experience, and a bigger OL. How it comes together will determine how exciting the offense will be in 2019. It will be great if the offense can move back up to one of the top offense in the B1G and top 15 in the country.

    1. I do really like the First Team OL. Health is my biggest concern for that unit. If they can stay healthy, the offense should flourish. Ideally, guys like Bedford won’t be thrust into the lineup as a FR like Cronk was due to injuries.

      My biggest concern for the team overall is stopping the run on defense. IU got gashed at times last season and as always, it all starts up front. I do really like the LB corps and secondary but if some guys don’t step up along the DL, we’re going to be in a lot of shootouts. Maybe Juan Harris plugs right into the NT? Maybe not? Maybe big Sio is the answer?

      1. The DL has questions but we now have players that may answer those questions. The incoming freshmen have players that are already B1G sized with enough speed to play to go along with Harris and Elliott [JC player]. Sio and Person have a great chance at playing this year. In the Spring ‘game” the DL did a better job on the run and keeping OL off the LBs. I feel better about the DL this year than last year; we will just have to see how they play.

      2. Having to replace multiple offensive linemen is a difficult task for any program, and it seems that it is compounded for IU. I hope Cronk, Littlejohn, and Stepaniak can provide enough maturity along the front line to help the young guys.

        Having a great runningback is a benefit, but without an equally talented OL a backs talent can be wasted. How many remember O.J. Simpsons first few years in Buffalo? The guy had a world of talent but until they had the guys who comprised the Electric Company defenses routinely shut him down. Scott is a talent, and James could be as well, but if the guys up front can’t open holes these two will have a hard time finding yards.

        I agree with you fishspinners, the defensive front may be the biggest question mark on the team. New DC or not IU needs to develop a capable defensive front that won’t get pushed around. Allen brought in some big DL recruits, but big doesn’t necessarily mean they will play like seasoned veterans.

        We’re a month out from the start of preseason camp. The season will be here before we know it and we will learn what kind of a team we have.

        1. Luckily IU gets Ball St and E.Ill out of the gates. Great chance for the coaches to figure out what might work on defense with this year’s personnel.

  6. I like the remendous physical advancement. Sure don’t want to argue with a player as to whether they know their own weight but every recruiting profile I’ve read the last 8-9 months has stated SJ was 200#’s +. Were is the disconnect?

    1. Right? He was always listed over 200 lbs. Maybe that was just how Avon listed him in their program lol.

      1. Likely.

        I doubt my high school admitted we had some 130lb guys… but we did. Some of them were outstanding.

        1. I had some very fast 130 lbers on my best teams, two of those teams going to the 4A state championship and another team going to semi-state] and they were very good players. They were very good hitters and very good RBs/WR. I didn’t mind saying they were 130 lbers in the program. No matter what size players are they can be very good players.

  7. Did James gain 20 lbs. or 30 lbs. since arriving on campus? Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he’s 220 lbs. and feels that he is stronger and faster than he was seven months ago. Unless he is embellishing his physical stats to the media, and I can’t imagine why he would do that, the additional muscle should make him eligible to get a significant number of carries this season. I can’t wait to see him play.

  8. Friday July 5 James was on the news and how his high school coach and family supported him and eventually made it to IU.

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