Ju'Wuan James got a piece of advice from his high school football coach two years ago that changed his life.
"Coach Sphire sat down and talked to me after my sophomore year and said I think it's a better route for you on the offensive line. I see a future ahead of you," the North Gwinnett senior recalled. "It turned out to be a good decision."
A former basketball player, turned tight end, James took the advice from Sphire and has blossomed into one of the top offensive linemen the country.
The four-star recruit is the No. 1 ranked offensive tackle in Georgia. Recruiting services Scout.com and ESPN have him rated the No. 8 offensive tackle in the nation.
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, James has grabbed the attention of college coaches, committing to Alabama in May.
"You know what a major tackle looks like in major college (football) and on Sundays and (it looks like Ju'Wuan)," Sphire said.
With all of his success it's hard to imagine James has only played one season as an offensive tackle.
He grew up playing basketball from the time he was 6 years old in New Jersey. When he moved to Georgia he turned in his basketball shoes for football cleats.
"That was the main thing up there. When I cam down here it was football, football, football. So I ended up playing, starting in the seventh grade," James said.
He played tight end in youth ball and entered high school as a 6-foot-4, 240-pound freshman. James was a tight end on North's 2007 state final team as a sophomore, but after the season Sphire talked to him about a position change, a move that could pay dividends in the long run.
"At first I wasn't liking it all. I love catching the ball and running routes," James said. "Just the fact of thinking about sitting there and just blocking someone the whole time, the whole play, it wasn't getting to me. But it turned out to be good. After a while I started to get the hang of it and I liked it."
Added Sphire: "Ju'Wuan is that basketball guy that wants to be a tight end accepting the fact that his body demanded he be an offensive lineman."
James started last season at offensive tackle as the Bulldogs went 10-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. Because of James' size he attracted the attention of college coaches. But it wasn't until January when he was invited to the U.S. Army All-American Combine in San Antonio that his recruiting stock skyrocketed. James was named to Rivals.com's first team offensive line after an impressive workout.
"We were doing one-on-ones and the first guy I went against was the No. 1 end in the country there," James said. "I went against him and I didn't necessarily win, but he didn't win either. I felt like if I can stick with him, I can stick with anybody else. So after that I was feeling good and that gave me the confidence level."
James received college scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country, including defending national champion Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But the senior committed to Alabama where he will join fellow lineman Austin Shepherd in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"It's pretty cool. A lot of people go to college and don't know anybody. It's hard to fit in, but we'll come in together, work hard and push each other," said James, who will graduate from North in December and enroll at Alabama in January.
Because of his size and athletic ability and the fact that he's still learning to play offensive tackle, there's a whole lot of potential for James at the next level and beyond.
"It's just raw ability right now," Sphire said. "I don't think he's anywhere he needs to be fundamentally, which is scary."
Being ranked one of the top offensive linemen in the country still baffles James sometimes. When he started playing football he never expected it would one day help pay for a college education. Of course that wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for some good coaching advice.
"When I hear it, I thank God every time that I'm fortunate enough to have people look at me that way," James said. "I never expected to do that. I was just a kid playing football for North Gwinnett and it turned out to be a good choice."
SideBar: The James File
· Who: Ju'Wuan James
· School: North Gwinnett
· Class: Senior
· Position: Offensive tackle
· Size: 6-foot-6, 305 pounds
· College choice: Alabama
· Other Division I-A offers: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Clemson
· Has played just one year of offensive tackle after moving from tight end
· No. 1 rated offensive tackle in Georgia and No. 8 in the country
· Will play in Under Armour All-American Game in January
· Bench presses 320 pounds, squats 400 and power cleans 295
· What did you like about Alabama that made you want to commit to them?: "I like their coaching staff. That was the first school I visited back when they were practicing for a bowl game with Utah. I just fell in love with the coaches and the facilities there. There's a lot of history at the University of Alabama."
· Coach Bob Sphire's comment: "Ju'Wuan is more finesse. Ju'Wuan relies more on his athleticism, but Ju'Wuan has enough toughness about him to mimic that when needed. Ju'Wuan is more of that left tackle, deep set, play out in space and get away with it fighting with that speed rusher."