James finds a home at Wabash

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Wabash running back Ike James
Ike James has been over 125 yards in four of Wabash's five games this season. In the other game, he had just nine carries.
Wabash athletics photo

By Joe Sager

Going through the recruiting process can be exhausting.

Experiencing it twice was a lot for Ike James.

For Wabash, though, the second time was the charm.

James, the Little Giants’ leading rusher, took a circuitous route to their backfield. Coming out of Lowell High School in northwestern Indiana, Wabash thought James would matriculate in its program.

“We recruited him hard; he was our No. 1 recruit,” Wabash head coach Don Morel said. “He got into school and the paperwork was going. Then, he got a scholarship offer from a D-II school and he chose to go that route. We were really bummed out. We felt like he would have fit into Wabash so well.”

That NCAA Division II school was nearby St. Joseph’s, where Ike’s father, Tim, had played football. The scholarship offer was one James couldn’t refuse.

“I come from a big family. We knew it was going to be tough going and paying for school,” James said. “St. Joseph’s believed in my abilities and it was practically a full-ride offer. They had a good exercise science program, too. It was a no-brainer for me.”

James succeeded on and off the field at St. Joseph’s. He worked his way up the depth chart and saw some carries and played on special teams, too. Then, in the spring semester, St. Joseph’s announced the school was ceasing operations.

Suddenly, James didn’t have a school – let alone a football program – to call home after the semester.

“When we found out, it was really late in the recruiting season for a lot of colleges. We found out three days after signing day,” he said. “For other players on scholarships, it was a hard time finding a place.”

Not for James. Morel jumped at the opportunity to reconnect.

“Once we found out St. Joe’s had to close their doors, we got right back on him, along with about 10,000 other schools,” he said. “Deep down, Ike just felt like Wabash was the place for him and he kind of got a second chance. He’s a great kid; he loves football and he loves Wabash.”

Heading to Wabash was an easy choice for James, who transferred after the spring semester.

“Coach Morel was the first to reach out to me. I came and checked out Wabash with some teammates and I fell in love with it and the go-to-work attitude,” he said. “It’s been a seamless transition. A lot of the people here have the same goals I do on and off the field. We want to be the best people we can be and be prepared. We want to be competitive people on and off the field. That’s why I feel so successful. I am surrounded with a lot of people with those same goals.

“St. Joseph’s was a higher level and I wanted to push myself at the Division II level. It was no joke; I was fortunate enough, after couple of injuries, to play a lot there. Being able to go through that, I had to step up and grow up quickly. Doing that helped me coming here to another high-level program. I am learning something new every day.”

It didn’t take James long to feel at home at Wabash.

“It took him about a day to completely assimilate and know everybody,” Morel said. “It wasn't like it was a transfer coming in. We don’t take many transfers at Wabash. He didn’t transfer for football reasons; he transferred because he needed to go to college. They didn’t drop the football program – they dropped the school.”

James had quite the debut for the Little Giants. The sophomore rushed for 238 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-26 win against Albion to open the season. It was the sixth-highest rushing total in Wabash history and his 43 carries ranked fourth. He leads a deep running back corps with 738 yards and 10 TDs on 136 carries so far this season.

“These guys gave me an opportunity. We have a lot of returning guys; our team is really deep at running back. We run four or five guys every week,” James said. “All the guys welcomed me with open arms. My position group has been great to me. They gave me a chance to learn the playbook. They let me go out there and play. They knew we could all help the team by rotating everybody, so everybody’s fresh. Yeah, the yardage numbers might be different, but everybody attacks the opposition in a different way. I really appreciate the opportunity to come in and have a chance to earn it.”

Morel is pleased with how James has fit in with the squad.

“He is not just a great running back; he is a great football player. We could probably play him in three or four positions other than running back. He is a great teammate and that’s really important in our program. He is a leader now – even though he is a new guy, he can’t help himself. He will do anything to help our football team,” Morel said. “We are always going to play the best guy and all our kids know it. Isaac Avant is a great running back also and Tyler Downing started for us last year. They are all really unselfish guys. They will do anything for the football team and the team at Wabash is bigger than any individual.”

James wasn’t the only St. Joseph’s player to join the Little Giants. Sophomore offensive lineman Andrew Yazel made the switch, too.

“He works real hard and has got into some games. He’ll be a key player, too,” James said. “This is a blessing in disguise, in terms of how great the academics are here and being the best men we can be. We both had that going before and we both wound up coming here. We knew, no matter what, we’d root each other on. He is one of my roommates here now. We’re attacking this whole experience together. It’s been a great time.”

Close calls

Washington & Jefferson held on for a 27-20 win over Carnegie Mellon in PAC play. The No. 15 Presidents got a scare when the Tartans made a late charge. They came within a touchdown with 2:49 to go and recovered an onside kick. However, Carnegie Mellon was unable to move the ball after that and turned it over to seal W&J’s victory.

Lakeland held off Adrian, 47-40, in a wild MIAA battle. The game was tied five times and neither team led by more than seven points. A total of 35 points were scored in the fourth quarter. After Adrian knotted the game at 40-all with 2:54 to go, Lakeland went 65 yards in six plays for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:05 left. The Bulldogs drove to the 17 and had a chance to score, but Oman Smothers intercepted a pass in the end zone with 10 seconds to go.

In the polls

No. 2 Mount Union (5-0) cruised to a 63-7 win at Heidelberg. The Purple Raiders welcome Capital in OAC action.

No. 12 Wittenberg (5-0) moved up two spots after a 59-17 win at Hiram. The Tigers battle Allegheny in NCAC play.

No. 15 Washington & Jefferson (5-0) moved up a notch after a 27-20 win at Carnegie Mellon. The Presidents visit Bethany in a PAC matchup.

No. 16 Case Western Reserve (5-0) inched up a spot after a 33-3 win over Bethany. The Spartans head to Thiel in a PAC clash.

No. 20 Wabash (5-0) moved up five spots after its 28-7 triumph over Denison. The Little Giants meet Ohio Wesleyan in NCAC action.

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Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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