AUBURN | The first 11 practices of spring were a real struggle for Paul James III.
The Auburn defensive end was trying to take the final steps in returning from a knee injury he suffered in practice last September. His teammates couldn't help but notice.
“I’ve seen Paul, man, he’s coming off a knee injury and he’s fighting. That makes me want to fight, that makes me want to be beside him and help him when he’s down,” fellow defensive end Marlon Davidson said earlier this spring.
James was experiencing some pain but there were also mental hurdles he had to overcome.
“Pretty much just putting the pain behind myself, every day being positive and having that mindset and mentally attacking the next play,” said James of how he got through it.
The turning point came last Tuesday in the 12th practice of the spring.
“I usually approach practice and I feel out my knee and I do certain things, but the pain wasn't coming like it's usually coming so I was good to go,” James said. “It just shows that all my hard work paid off.”
Four days later James showed he was truly back to 100 percent when he tallied four tackles, three tackles-for-loss and one sack in the A-Day game.
“I know Rodney (Garner) has been challenging him and you can see him improving,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “One play that really stood out to me is there was a read zone with Malik, he baited him to keeping the football and then came back and just made a good change of direction play. Coach Garner is trying to develop depth and get quality depth so it was really good to see him perform well.”
James was named the defensive MVP.
“It's just an honor,” James said. “It just shows that all my hard work paid off, going through the ups and downs and coming out on top.”
James worked at both defensive end and Buck linebacker this spring and is open to playing either or both this fall. He has high expectations for himself and Auburn’s defensive line.
“I want to get 12 sacks or more,” James said. “We're going to be very good because Coach G, he set the bar high and we know what he expects out of us so we're just working toward that goal.”