Friday, April 22, 2011

SPORTS>>Red Devils football players earning accolades

Leader sports editor

The answer is in the number of tackles.

The question is what was it that got Jacksonville lineman Rhakeem James named the school’s Brandon Burlsworth award winner?

It isn’t the number of tackles themselves, though that was an impressive 68, 43 assisted.

It was the fact that James, who at 195 pounds is light for an interior lineman, had to fly from his spot in the middle to bring down the ball carriers who were trying to run anywhere but at him last season.

The effort stands as an example of how James approaches everything, whether it’s bookwork, football or life itself and explains why he is the Devils’ Burlsworth honoree.

“This kid has just been, you hate to say somebody is perfect but he’s been as perfect a student athlete as you could possibly have,” coach Rick Russell said.

The Burlsworth Award is named in honor of former Arkansas Razorbacks offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth, who walked on and then forged himself into an All-American and Indianapolis Colts draft pick, only to be killed in an auto accident before he could begin his NFL career.

The Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, formed after his death in 1999, honors a player from each Arkansas high school.

The criteria for selection include drive, diligence to a player’s school and team and moral character.

James, 5-10, has all that and more, Russell said.

“He has one speed and that’s full out,” Russell said. “He’s very coachable and I don’t think he’s ever had a referral in the classroom.”

James was all-conference and all-state and was in the running for the 6A-East Conference’s top lineman honor after helping Jacksonville to the state playoffs last year.

“Pure desire,” Russell said. “No defensive tackle should make that many tackles on the season unless they’re running right at him, and they didn’t.”

James had six sacks, four tackles for loss and blocked a punt last year. On offense, he graded at 88 percent as a blocker with 17 pancake blocks and four knockdowns.

James, also a deep snapper, has signed to play football with Arkansas-Monticello.