When Darius James starts thinking about playing in the Under Armour All-America Game, it's not the defensive linemen that worry him. It's getting to Florida.
The ESPN 150 center and Texas commit from Harker Heights (Texas) High School has never really been outside his home state, other than for one basketball tournament. In fact, he's never flown on an airplane.
"It's my first flight," said James. "It's going to be a learning experience. I've seen some of those crazy movies like 'Final Destination' that make me worried."
If there's anything James should be concerned about, it's fitting his 6-foot-5, 320-pound body into his cramped seat.
On Wednesday, James accepted his jersey for the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game as part of the American Family Insurance Selection Tour. He knows the game is an opportunity to prove he's still one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
"It's a big honor, because I know that players of a prestigious level like Robert Nkemdiche and Jadeveon Clowney and all kinds of people like that get to be in that game," James said. "It's going to be big."
For now, though, all he's focused on is getting healthy first.
The top-ranked center and No. 17 overall recruit in the ESPN 150 has missed nearly his entire senior season due to an injury that came on a seemingly innocent play.
Late in the first half, a Round Rock (Texas) Stony Point lineman accidentally stepped on James' left foot. He didn't think much of it. In fact, he recorded a sack while playing defensive end on the following play.
When he returned to the sidelines for the second half, James was on crutches. He didn't think his injury was serious, but this was the season opener. No need to make things worse with a long year ahead.
A day later, he got the surprising verdict: He'd broken his foot. Again.
James broke a bone in his right foot during the summer, but he’d fully recovered from that. He was fixing to enjoy a big senior year.
"It was demoralizing," James said. "I felt like I was about to go out and be Superman or something. But it didn't happen that way."
James hoped he'd be back on the field in six to eight weeks, but he hasn't played a game since. While he said he doesn't play for recruiting rankings, he did fear missing his senior season would come with consequences.
"I thought I was going to drop and everybody was going to forget about me," James said.
That hasn't been the case. Despite playing the less-than-glorious position of center, James is the No. 2 ranked offensive lineman in the ESPN 150. He’s also the highest-rated center since Texas' Mason Walters was ranked 27th in 2007.
That's meaningful to James. He knows guys like him rarely get this kind of hype and acclaim.
"People say they don't want to play line because they don’t get that much recognition," James said. "You feel good, because you’re doing stuff that nobody else wants to do and getting recognized for it."
If he doesn't play another game until the Under Armour All-America Game in January, look out. James is ready to shed his walking boot and prove himself -- again.
"I'm going to go out there and show everybody the injury had no effect," he said. "I'm going to show I've still got it."