By the end of Boise State junior safety Chanceller James’ interview session with the media Tuesday, his career of choice was easy to predict.
Politician — the good kind.
James had just answered questions for 7 minutes with a bit of inspiration, a bit of humor and a heavy dose of humility.
He even has an endearing backstory that explains the perseverance and relentlessness that allowed him to overcome the second major knee injury of his college career in a remarkably short amount of time.
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“My older brother always beat me up and my two younger brothers always beat me up,” he said, “so I always just wanted to keep on fighting, keep on fighting. My mom, she’s a fighter. She worked three jobs at one point in time. I think that’s where I get my mentality from.”
James was the Special Teams Scout Player of the Year as a true freshman in 2012 and expected to make an impact in 2013. Instead, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee during fall camp and missed the season.
He returned for camp in 2014 after a yearlong rehab and played his way into the starting lineup in November. On the first drive of his second consecutive start — and third start overall — he tore the ACL in his right knee. That happened Nov. 22 at Wyoming — leaving just 81/2 months for surgery and rehab to get ready for fall camp.
He was ready in 71/2.
“His first injury was really hard on him,” said senior Shane Williams-Rhodes, who arrived in the same recruiting class as James. “It took him a while to come back. After he did his second one, it was kind of weird. Usually when you see people tear an ACL twice, most people are done or they just want to medically retire. But maybe a day or two after Chance tore his ACL, he said, ‘I’ll be back in six months.’
James clearly remembers the moment he was injured. It was the third play of the game at Wyoming. He lined up in the wrong spot but still made a tackle on running back Brian Hill, who gained 14 yards.
James landed on his leg wrong. He wanted to stay in the game; the trainers knew immediately his season was over.
And James didn’t waste any time finding his focus.
“I was coming back Aug. 4,” he said. “That was the goal.”
He was cleared to run with cleats about a month ago and has been on the field hitting people through the first week of fall camp. Coach Bryan Harsin told a story about James leading his group in 300-yard shuttle runs during summer conditioning.
“He has really taken his rehab to another level,” Harsin said.
James’ rehab was helped by his experience overcoming the first one. The second injury also was less severe because the damage was limited to the ACL.
Still, the average recovery is eight to nine months.
“I’m a fighter. I was coming back no matter what,” James said. “... When it happened again, I heard my mom’s voice in my head like: ‘It’s gonna be all right. It’s gonna be all right. You’re going to be able to come back.’ ”
He returns to a much different position group than the one he left in November. Sophomore Dylan Sumner-Gardner has emerged as the leading candidate to start at the spot where James played in November, senior Mercy Maston has returned from injury and Texas A&M/junior college transfer Kam Miles joined the team in January.
James, Maston and Miles are candidates for the nickel safety job.
“If the coaches ask me to go somewhere else, I’ll run that way,” James said. “Nickel is great. I get to blitz, play man, get to play the run, get to play the pass. It’s awesome.”
James could be the secondary’s swingman. He has the talent and smarts to play any of the three safety positions. He has dedicated himself to video study through both injuries and helped Sumner-Gardner develop from raw freshman to promising sophomore.
“Being a football player, it’s not just being fast or strong,” James said. “It takes mental capacity. It takes you to actually go in there and learn something.”
James’ willingness to stay involved in the mental side of the game allowed him to improve his knowledge even while he wasn’t on the field, defensive backs coach Julius Brown said.
“He wasn’t going to let this slow him down,” Brown said.
It’s an experience that likely will serve the political science major well when his football career ends.
“Every day is just all about being the best person that you are,” James said, “no matter what you’re doing — football, recording me, asking me questions or going to play with your kids. You’ve got to be the best that you can be.”