When players have breakout seasons as freshmen or redshirt freshmen, often there is worry that they will have a decline in production the following year.
Middle Tennessee redshirt sophomore wide receiver Richie James is proving this season that adage is a myth.
Following his redshirt freshman season in which James set school and freshman Conference USA records with 108 receptions and 1,346 yards, it would have been easy to think there would be no way he could play even better. But, through 10 games this year, he just might be.
“He’s a great player and great players shouldn’t drop off,” MT offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said. “He’s getting better all the time, and he’s just a special football player.”
James currently leads Conference USA in receiving yards per game (125.4) and is second in receptions per game (8.5). His 1,254 receiving yards are fourth-most in the country, while his receptions per game come in fifth.
For his career, James ranks third all-time at Middle Tennessee with 193 catches, just one behind Tyrone Calico for second. His 2,600 total receiving yards are also third all-time for a Blue Raider, and he is just 37 yards from passing Calico for second.
The secret to James’ success over his two seasons isn’t really hard to understand. He has a constant drive to get better, and his consistency has been born out of it.
“I just try to be as consistent as I can be,” he said. “I had a few drops this year, but those were just fundamental things and I wasn’t focused. Now I think I’m getting on track … I’m getting the feel for it at the right time when my team needs me as much as I need them.”
The Blue Raider wide receiving corps has been riddled with injuries since before the season even started. With multiple wideouts out of the mix, a young group around James has had to pick up the slack.
Teams have tried to come up with ways to blanket James and limit his effectiveness, and that has caused the Blue Raider offense to be creative in getting him the ball.
“We’ve had to move him around to find ways to not get him doubled,” Franklin said. “The good thing is [wide receivers] Ty Lee and Dennis [Andrews] are getting better, and that’s helped.”
Perhaps no injury Middle Tennessee has had to face this season was more of a loss than redshirt sophomore quarterback Brent Stockstill’s. But, in the game and a half since he went down with a broken collarbone, James hasn’t missed a beat, even though he’s had to switch from catching passes from a left-handed QB to a right-handed one.
With redshirt freshman backup quarterback John Urzua under center against Marshall, James hauled in 12 catches for 122 yards. He now has over 100 yards receiving in a school record six straight games.
“John is figuring me out and I’m figuring his throws out,” James said. “It’s different between a right hand throw and a left hand throw, but we’re getting it down.”
Even with all of his accomplishments and accolades, being named to the Freshman All-American First Team by the FWAA, USA Today and Athlon Sports and the All-C-USA First Team last season, there is one nomination that surprisingly wasn’t given to James.
He was placed on the watch lists of both the Biletnikoff and Maxwell Awards in the preseason, but when semifinalists for the Biletnikoff (honors the nation’s most outstanding receiver) were announced, his name wasn’t one mentioned.
Though he wasn’t included amongst the semifinalists, James said it doesn’t change anything about his season or the way he will finish it.
“I don’t think about awards,” he said. “That’s politics; I don’t really care about it. I’m just trying to compete with myself.”
With the numbers James has put up through 25 games in his Middle Tennessee career, it’s clear he needs no added motivation to be great. And no matter what quarterback is under center for the Blue Raiders, they can rest assured their top target will consistently be open.