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It's been 18 months since LaMareon James signed his letter of intent to play for Old Dominion.
A lot has happened since.
One of the most athletic high school football players in recent memory in the area, the former Indian River 3-star cornerback is finally going to show off his talents on Sept. 11, when ODU plays its first home game since November of 2019. He'll be joined by a number of highly-ranked players from the Commonwealth, as his signing set off what some may even call a paradigm shift in recruiting within the state. A plethora of highly-sought after talent has followed since James decided to pick the Monarchs.
“It feels good to know that I started something big,” James said. “I’m from Norfolk, so knowing that the whole city is behind me, that's a big blessing for me. Ever since I was little it has been like this. Knowing I can play in front of my hometown is big for me.”
The hype around James ever since youth football resembles a hurricane, and landfall will be coming at the home opener. Ever since he first put pads on, people have thought James was a special talent. He was ranked as the No. 3 recruit in Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot, was a two-time first-team All-Tidewater selection and was named first-team All-Region his senior year. Rivals rated him the No. 7 recruit in the state, and as a senior caught 24 passes for 681 yards, rushed for 475 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus recorded 5 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns on defense.
That hype could form pressure, but for James, he embraces it.
“I don't look at it as pressure, I’m the type of person who likes that," James said. "I like pressure and I like showing it out in front of people. I have a lot of people who have been doubting me since I was little so it doesn't pressure me, it makes me go harder in the game and show out for my hometown.”
With 15 players on the roster from Hampton Roads and the 757, there are a lot of players LaMareon knows on this squad, many who have come to the program in the two years since Ricky Rahne was hired as Head Coach.
“I feel like we are building something, we are like the new home team,” James said with a smile. “I feel like people from here aren't just going to look at Virginia Tech and UVA, they are going to start looking at ODU first. We are building something special.”
“He is still learning that position a little bit,” Rahne said of James’ improvement. “He has flashes and his athletic ability shows up. We want to find ways to make sure he can make an impact on the game because we know he is a special athlete. We are going to keep giving him opportunities and generally, he is working really hard and taking advantage of it.”
When Old Dominion returns home on September 11th, it will be a big day for James, the University, and the area as a whole.
“I think I might shed a tear, I won’t even lie to you, I think I might shed a tear,” James said of the moment ODU comes out of the tunnel to a packed S.B. Ballard Stadium for the first time in two seasons. “Being in my hometown, this is really big.”
At Indian River, James wore the number two, a jersey reserved for special players, prior to James wearing it. Jaquan Yulee, who would go on to Marshall and was killed this summer in a car accident, wore it. Jaquan was set to announce his new school after deciding to transfer to Marshall.
James looked up to Yulee, and with the tragic death of Yulee, James has one more factor motivating him this season.
“This season is for him,” James said on how he plans to honor Yulee. “Sometimes I’ll be sad about it knowing he is gone but I know he is up there in the sky looking down on me wanting me to do good, so I’m going to do good for him and keep my head up.”
Being from the area, a lot of local fans are excited to see what James can do, and he has a lot of support in the region.
“There’s a lot (of people coming), I know that, “I might have 100+, that’s not even from my tickets, that’s people buying tickets,” James remarked. “A whole bunch of people have been messaging me asking for jerseys, telling me they are coming to games and have tickets. It’s been crazy.”
The long layoff is almost ready for James, and it can’t come a moment too soon.
“Us not playing last season took a toll on me,” James said of the two years since he last played. “It took a toll on my teammates and me but every day we grinded in the weight room and in the classroom even though we weren't playing. We are finally here and ready to put on a show.”
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