Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Newberry College football player Lequawn James prepares for the NFL Regional Combine while training at the Georgia Sports Performance facility in Suwanee last week. NFL hopefuls will show their skills today in Atlanta during the NFL Regional Combine.
SUWANEE -- Laquawn James has heard his entire football career that he's too short, but he won't let that interrupt his plan to "wow the scouts" this weekend.
At 5-foot-11 and 296 pounds, James is built like a fire plug with arms that could fit on a logging truck. The former Newberry (S.C.) College offensive lineman is training in Suwanee for what he hopes is a spring and summer of workouts that lead to a job in the NFL.
While he started for four seasons along the offensive line at Newberry, James graduated last year with a degree in nursing. He came to Gwinnett for the critical care nursing residency program at Gwinnett Medical Center thanks to the advice of a mother of a former Newberry teammate who also introduced him to Earl Williams, the owner of Georgia Sports Performance in Suwanee.
Cheryl Newman has worked in the emergency department at GMC for 23 years, she said, and also had a son train at Williams' facility.
On Saturday, James will take part in an Atlanta Falcons combine, which is his first chance to catch the eye of NFL scouts. If he does well, there is the South Carolina bowl, a possible pro day at Coastal Carolina University and another combine at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
"My expectations are to wow the scouts, especially coming from a small school, they don't quite know who I am," James said. "I think I have a good shot, basically because I'm stronger than probably most of the guys that came out into the draft, and probably quicker than a lot of them, too."
What James really hopes to show off is quick foot speed, and those powerful arms that he said can bench press 225 pounds at least 34 straight times.
When he first arrived at Georgia Sports Performance about three weeks ago, James said he didn't know how to prepare for the various combine workouts, like the 225-pound bench press.
Thanks to former Denver Broncos left tackle Tony Jones, who he met through Williams, James increased his repetitions. Jones also applauded James for getting through a recent grueling workout without vomiting or quitting, unlike most linemen who attempt the workout.
It's Jones whose opinion NFL scouts hold in high regard, James said, and could be a key to getting invitations to other combines and workouts.
"He can come in there and they can ask him, 'Hey what do you think of this guy?,'" James said. "'This guy has great feet, great hands.' (What) will help me along with my performance, is his word because a lot of scouts have his number."
Williams said his facility focuses on quality over quantity and pointed to 22 scholarships signed by high school athletes this year who trained at Georgia Sports Performance.
A 20-year veteran of the football and exercise science community in Gwinnett, Williams ticked off a list of well-known football players to come through his gym, including Dominique Franks, Corey Peters, Vance Walker and D.J. Shockley.
"Finding good trainers and trusting good trainers is just as important as any other coach," Williams said. "There's a lot of guys out there that do it, but it takes a chemistry between the athlete and the trainer to get the most out of them. That's really what the key is."
Williams admitted that James is a bit on the short side, but "he's just massively strong," Williams said, and will be scouted at center, long snapper and field goal snapper.
While James performs in front of NFL scouts, he simultaneously will prepare for nursing boards to be taken in the next month before he begins a 16-week residency program.
James moved to Gwinnett to live with Newman's family in Dacula because he couldn't find a critical care residency program in South Carolina.
James said he has wanted a career in the medical field since he was a kid, and initially wanted to be a doctor.
"Once I got older and found out that doctors really don't have that much to do with patient care, and nurses do, I wanted to be a nurse," he said. "Because you actually affect the patient's life rather than the doctor coming in for two minutes and going out. So I find nursing to be a better thing to affect people's life."
James believes he'll at least have a chance to make an NFL team, whether it's through the NFL Draft, a free agent contract or a training camp invitation. If that happens, his nursing career could be on hold, as long as he passes the upcoming boards.
In the mean time, he'll lean on the motivation he got from a high school coach who said James was just good enough to walk on in college. Never mind starting for four years.
"It was always a height problem," he said. "But at center, I'm the perfect height. I have big legs and big arms and a good center of gravity, and I'll be faster than most guys playing the center position."