As the media approached Tampa Bay Buccaneersâ€™ running back Mike James, a huge smile that even Magic Johnson could appreciate came across his face. It showed just how happy James was to be back to the place he calls home.
It has been a wild ride for James this season. From the sorrow of getting cut prior to the season opener, to the uncertainty of sitting at home wondering his next move; from the joy of getting another chance on the Detroit Lionsâ€™ practice squad to the elation of getting the call that he was being re-signed by the Buccaneers.
Suffering multiple injuries at the running back position, the Buccaneers brought back James prior to the teamâ€™s Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons. He had a limited role with 20 plays on offense and 17 on special teams. He rushed the ball once for three yards and a first down and also caught three passes for 17 yards.
â€śIt was great being out there,â€ť James said Monday. â€śI appreciate the fact of being out there. Coach (Dirk Koetter) gave me an opportunity so Iâ€™m thankful.â€ť
James will likely get even more opportunities in Sundayâ€™s game against Chicago. Running back Doug Martinâ€™s status still up in the air and Jacquizz Rodgers still in a boot. Also, the Buccaneers placed Antone Smith on injured reserve on Monday leaving the team with undrafted rookies Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough along with James healthy.
â€śMikeâ€™s a sharp guy and he did a good job of getting himself ready to go last week,â€ť Koetter said. â€śI donâ€™t see a reason why he canâ€™t be ready to go on everything this week.”
That is fine with James, who did not want to leave. He was a sixth-round draft pick of Tampa Bay in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Miami. Plus, he was born in nearby Haines City and was the first person drafted from Ridge Community High School in Davenport (his high school teammate Vince Williams was taken 17 picks later by the Pittsburgh Steelers).
â€śItâ€™s been wild,â€ť James said. â€śI canâ€™t even explain. I feel like when I first started camp, I had no idea the season would go the way itâ€™s gone. It was tough.
â€śIt hurt me,â€ť he said of meeting with general manager Jason Licht on the day of his release. â€śI didnâ€™t want to go. It hurt me because when you give everything, youâ€™re willing to do whatever for the organization and they didnâ€™t want to let you go and it hurt them just as bad. And you didnâ€™t (mess) up, itâ€™s just luck of the draw. Itâ€™s tough.â€ť
James had injured his leg during the preseason and the Buccaneers waived him injured. The three weeks before the Lions called were hard on him. But even while he was in Detroit, if the Buccaneers were on television, he was watching.
â€śI was listening to (quarterback Jameis Winston) make calls on TV,â€ť he said. â€śWhen I left Tampa, I never felt like I was fully out of here. It was hard.
â€śI love Tampa, the coaches, front office, the media here,â€ť he said. â€śSeriously. I always liked the way things had been done, through the ups and the downs. There are people who want the best for the people around here. My teammates, theyâ€™re family to me. Even when I was in Detroit, Iâ€™m texting them. Even for the Monday night game, I texted Jameis before the Monday night game. I was celebrating just as hard because I know how much it meant to beat Carolina. If thereâ€™s any place I wanted to get back, it was here.â€ť
It hasnâ€™t been easy for James but his life has never been.
His mom died in a car accident when he was in college. In his firstÂ season, he suffered an ankle injury and had to miss the rest of the season. Since then, heâ€™s been fighting for a spot on the team. Last year, he spent the majority of the year on the practice squad.
James knows how quickly things can change. For the time being, he is just happy to be back.
â€śIâ€™m like a firm believer in something has to give,â€ť he said. â€śIf you work hard long enough, something is going to give. Itâ€™s going to happen. Iâ€™m a firm believer in that. If I stop, then Iâ€™ll never know. You know what hell is, God is revealing to you all the things youâ€™ve never tried. So you go every day.â€ť