North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire pokes his head out of his fieldhouse office and let’s loose a yell that penetrates the cacophony of clings and clangs and shouts emanating from the weight room next door. “JaWuan, come here just a minute, would ya?” he barks. Seconds later, JaWuan James arrives obediently, his 6-foot-6, 305-pound frame filling seemingly every inch of the red-painted doorway. Informed a reporter is there to talk to him, James’ hulking shoulders slump ever so slightly in a subtle show of disappointment. But a slight grin, smiling eyes and a firm handshake soon erase any signs of reluctance. The elusive James — a four-star offensive tackle who committed to Alabama last May but abruptly reopened his recruitment two weeks ago — has done his level best to avoid any in-depth discussions about the when-what-why of that decision. But, realizing there’s no avoiding it this time, James chooses one of the two chairs in front of Sphire’s desk and swivels it around toward the other as if to say, ‘let’s go.’ So I sit down in the other chair and following is our exchange.
Q: So, what’s your life been like since you reopened your recruitment? I’m assuming a little hectic?
A: “I probably get 20 calls a day. Somewhere around there. A lot. A lot of E-mails and letters. It’s been rough. It’s like it was when it first started back in the spring. But, I mean, my Mom, my parents and everybody is helping me through this whole thing.”
Q: I hate to ask you to rehash, but just for the sake of clarity, why did you back off your commitment to Alabama?
A. “Well, back when I committed and the Alabama probation stuff came out, I expressed to them my concerns about it. I’ve talked to them about it since and they’ve been helping me throughout and trying to make me feel more comfortable. But I never felt the comfortability I felt back when I first committed to them. So there was that. But mostly I just felt like I needed to take a step back and just re-evaluate everything.”
Q: Obviously Georgia has gotten back in it with you. I understand UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and line coach Stacy Searels came to your game this past Friday?
A: “Yes sir, they came to the Mill Creek game.”
Q: And you made an unofficial visit to Georgia for the Arizona State game, correct?
A: “Yes sir. I got a chance to get back on campus after not being there in a long while. My Dad and I talked to Coach [Mark] Richt before the game and we got to talk to Coach Searels, too, before and after the game. I talked to Coach Richt after the game, too, come to think of it. But basically I just wanted to get back on campus, see a game and feel the atmosphere again.”
Q: What’s Georgia telling you in regards to football?
A: “They were talking about how they have some needs on the offensive line now. They said they’re getting kind of thin.”
Q: I understand you’re planning on going back to Athens for the LSU game this weekend. But that’s an unofficial visit, too. So do you plan on taking an official visit to Georgia?
A: “Yes, Coach Richt asked me if I would so I’m planning on it. I don’t know when yet. Later.”
Q: Meanwhile, I hear Tennessee is coming after you hard?
A. “Yes, sir, they’re recruiting me hard. . . . I’m going on an official visit there when they play UGA on Oct. 10.”
Q: What coach is recruiting you for the Vols?
A: “Coach Ed Orgeron.” [laughs]
Q: You laugh. He’s quite a character, isn’t he?
A: “He’s just a funny guy [laughs again]. I mean, he talks to you all the time, checking up on you, sending all kinds of cards and stuff. I mean, he’s a good guy. The whole staff up there is pretty good.”
Q: Can you share something Orgeron done that makes him so funny?
A: “One letter he sent he had written on the envelope, ‘Mailman, put me on top. He’s our No. 1 prospect right now.’ Just stuff like that.”
Q: So who else is still in it for you? Is Alabama?
A: “I mean, yes sir, them. And then I’m going on an official to UCLA Oct. 17 with my teammate Justin Dickens (senior wide receiver). . . . I was down at Florida, too (for Tennessee game on Sept. 19). That was a crazy experience down there. A crazy place.”
Q: Would you say it’s serious with Florida, too?
A: Yes sir.
Q: So you really are wide open. Well, what has the reaction been from Alabama, first from the fans, then from the coaching staff?
A: “Some people are saying, ‘JaWuan, we respect what you’re thinking right now and good luck wherever you go but we still want you here.’ Then there are other fans that are, like, ‘you’re making the biggest mistake of your life’ and ‘we’ll find somebody better’ and stuff like that. But most of the people in this community are, like, ‘Good luck wherever you go.’ The [Alabama] coaches understand that I felt uncomfortable and they want me to still consider going there. They’re still recruiting me. So they seem understanding.”
Q: Will you make another trip back to Tuscaloosa?
A: “I don’t even know yet. I haven’t really talked to them about it. I’ve talked to coach [Kirby] Smart like once. They told me they wanted me to at first. That’s my intention, hopefully.”
Q: I understand you’re a very good student, too, and you plan to graduate early. Doesn’t that kind of compress this whole process?
A: “Yes sir. I have to make a decision hopefully by December.”
Q: So what’s it going to come down to?
A: “Probably the coaches I feel most comfortable with and where the coaches have the best interest in me getting an education and making me a better player.”