South Xtra: Jesse James' talent holds up for South Allegheny


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South Allegheny tight end Jesse James typically gets a funny look when introducing himself to someone for the first time.

It's a natural reaction that goes along with sharing a name as a famous outlaw from back in the Old West and a current television personality.

"Someone always has something to say about my name," James said. "There's always a joke."

But what James does on the football field is no laughing matter.

One of the most physically imposing players in the WPIAL -- he stands 6 feet 7 and weighs 252 pounds -- James is the undisputed "big man on campus" at South Allegheny.

He has already accepted a scholarship offer to Penn State and is the driving force behind the Gladiators' hopes of finishing with a winning record for the first time in nearly two decades.

James sticks out like, well, a 6-7 teenager walking down the street in Glassport, his hometown. In visibility, however, lies challenge. South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said the Gladiators need to get the ball more to James, who had 34 receptions for 463 yards on his way to all-state honors as a junior.

Actually doing that is much easier said than done, however.

"He's hard to hide out there," said Monroe, laughing. "We're not playing against coaches who don't prepare. When they play us . . . they're going to focus on stopping him."

Thus, James knew he had to regain the upper hand by getting even better in the offseason. Monroe called James a tireless worker, and James used that work ethic to improve in what he said were many areas since last season ended.

"I've been working on everything," said James, who also plays defensive end. "I've worked on my blocking. As a receiver, I feel like I've really developed. I get open every time now. My routes are real good and I don't drop the ball. Plus, I've dropped my 40 time down to like 4.65."

So wait, a 6-7, 252-pound tight end who runs a 4.65 40-yard dash, is a smooth receiver and a solid blocker?

Impressive.

Monroe oversaw an abundance of talented athletes during his many years as head coach at Duquesne High School until it closed in 2008, but said James is a little different.

"He's just so unique because of his body," said Monroe, who is in his fourth season at South Allegheny. "He's fortunate to have been born with a body like that, but he's the epitome of taking advantage of the gift he was given and getting the most of it. He has worked hard to become a big-time player."

Rivals ranks James as the No. 20 tight end in the nation. He verbally committed to Penn State in March. He won't play against many future Division I players this season, but that wasn't the case this summer when he took a road trip to Dallas to compete in the New Level Athletics 7-on-7 national championship.

The interesting thing about the team James played on was that, other than Sto-Rox's Deaysean Rippy, Marzett Geter and Josh Beverly, the rest of James' teammates were from schools across the country. Among the other standouts on the star-studded team was Zeke Pike, an Auburn recruit ranked as the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation by Rivals.

The tournament was just another way for James to develop his game and a skill set Monroe laughed about when talking about how James has become very good at catching difficult passes.

"The high ones are easy," Monroe said. "He's 6 feet 7, so when there's a low ball, that's a long way to bend down."

James' talent and potential keeps on going up, however, so much that he is making his own name for himself.

Jesse James, the football player.

And that's no joke.



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