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'I just want to play'

Miami's James only thinking bowl game for now

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Posted: Sunday December 27, 1998 02:56 PM

  Making a name: James, who rushed for more than 100 yards seven times this season, racked up 299 yards against UCLA AP

CORAL GABLES, Florida (AP) -- Edgerrin James has spent much of the past three weeks mulling whether to declare for the NFL draft a year early. He has another 10 days after the Micron PC Bowl to make up his mind.

But Miami's single-season rushing leader doesn't want to consider the situation right now.

"I just want to play," James said. "This is a bowl game, something we didn't have last year. I'm happy to be here, and I just want to enjoy it."

The 24th-ranked Hurricanes' matchup Tuesday night against North Carolina State could be another chance for James to impress a rapidly growing legion of pro scouts. Or it could be a platform to launch a Heisman Trophy campaign for next season.

If James knows, he won't say which.

"People can take it any way they want to take it," he said.

Certainly the timing never has been better for James to turn pro. He is one of just three Miami players to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and the only one to do it twice.

His 1,416 yards rushing this season broke Ottis Anderson's 20-year-old school record by 150 yards. James is only 371 yards shy of Anderson's career rushing mark of 3,331 yards, despite playing one fewer season.

Finally, James is coming off a Big East-record 299 yards and three touchdowns in Miami's 49-45 upset of previously unbeaten UCLA. A 1-yard TD run with 50 seconds left knocked the Bruins from the national-title picture and thrust James into the spotlight.

"You want to enjoy that UCLA game as long as you can," said James, whose 128.7 yards per game ranks eighth nationally. "We're still living a little bit on it right now."

Miami's list of premier running backs is a short one, though players such as Anderson, Chuck Foreman and Pete Banaszak went on to greater success in the NFL. Even more recent runners like Alonzo Highsmith and Melvin Bratton never ran for 1,000 yards.

Running backs coach Don Soldinger said James "has to be the best. He's broken just about every record here."

At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, James is bigger than NFL rushing leaders Terrell Davis of Denver and Jamal Anderson of Atlanta. He's also a workhorse, as evidenced by his 39 carries against UCLA.

If James goes pro, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects him as a top-15 pick and the second running back taken, behind Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams of Texas.

Walking away from NFL millions would be difficult for James, who grew up poor in Immokalee, Florida, a farming community of about 15,000 in the middle of the Everglades. But he also likes the camaraderie he has with teammates, and still longs to play in a Bowl Championship Series game.

"Right now I'm just enjoying being with the guys, being at the University of Miami," he said. "Once it's over, it's over. When you declare, you can't be in on anything. So I'm not going to rush nothing."

After Tuesday's game, he will sit down again with Hurricanes coach Butch Davis, who has several NFL ties as a former Dallas Cowboys assistant, and go over the options.

"He's not going to make a foolish decision," Soldinger said. "He's got a lot to think about. He's going to research it out and not make a rash decision."

Even so, James acknowledges it's likely to come down to a gut decision.

"Whatever makes me happy. I've thought about a lot of things over and over," he said. "Then again, I might have an answer, walk up to the podium and change my mind."

 
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