MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sam James has been asked to do a lot during his extended Mountaineer football career.
After redshirting as a true freshman in 2018, James burst onto the scene the following season with a team-high 69 catches. That same year, he was also West Virginia’s top kick returner.
Over the past two seasons, James has primarily been used as a wide receiver. He has filled in on special teams, though largely not as a punt or kick returner.
The same can be said for the Richmond Hill, Georgia native this season, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate.
James is one of West Virginia’s gunners in the punt formation, and he has excelled in that role.
“I kind of enjoy it because I’m fast. So, you know, just getting down there fast. I don’t really get touched off the line from their jammers,” James said Tuesday. “It’s just fun running down there, you know, making the punt returner fair catch every time.”
The Mountaineers have punted 16 times this season, and just two have been returned for a whopping four yards. A tackle by James on special teams early in the second quarter of West Virginia’s win over Baylor last Thursday held the Bears’ returner to just a one-yard gain.
“I played a little defense in high school, so I guess that kind of carried over to now being able to make a tackle,” James said.
WVU head coach Neal Brown noted James’ efforts on special teams when he met with the media on Tuesday. The Mountaineers punted twice against Baylor, but only allowed one to be returned.
James caught three passes for 52 yards in addition to his special teams tackle against Baylor. He has tallied at least 50 receiving yards in all but one game this year.
In addition to being a reliable pass catcher for JT Daniels, the redshirt junior has also been a reliable blocker on the outside. James and the receivers becoming better blockers has helped the Mountaineers be one of the most improved rushing teams in the Big 12 Conference this season.
But it’s a skill that James didn’t expect to need when he first arrived in Morgantown.
“When I first got here, I was like, ‘I got to block? I thought they recruited me to catch passes and stuff,'” James said. “But after going down the road with practicing and learning, and watching games and watching NFL guys block, [I was] like, ‘Oh, this is part of the game.’ We got to start doing this to help us because if we don’t block at the second level, a lot of the big runs you see won’t happen.”
James credited Morgantown native Preston Fox for picking up a key block on Tony Mathis’ fourth-quarter touchdown run against Baylor.
Mathis noted the efforts in the blocking game from the wideouts immediately following the victory.
“The wideouts did a phenomenal job tonight on blocking on every run,” Mathis said. “Every big run came from the wideouts blocking. So, definitely credit to all of them. They did a great job.”
The veteran wideout ranks in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receptions (23) and receiving yards (357). He also ranks ninth in the league with 15.5 yards per catch.