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September 6, 2009Brandon James has provided Florida fans with many electric special teams moments over his career, but the senior had never returned a kickoff for a touchdown - until Saturday night.
After Charleston Southern kicked a field goal, its only points of the night, James caught the kickoff, started up the middle and then bounced the play to the outside, 85-yards later he was in the endzone.
"It feels really good getting the monkey off my back," James said. "It means a lot to me because I didn't want to leave here without having one."
The touchdown extended the Gators' lead to 42-3 and gave UF its first kick return for a score in 10 years. Bo Carroll was the last Gator to accomplish the feat when he took one back 100 yards against LSU in 1999.
That's 123 consecutive games.
"I've been getting a lot of grief from the teammates," James said. "Actually, Bo Carroll's a part of our staff, so he has been giving me a lot of grief."
The 5-foot-7 return man became just the second UF player to take back a kickoff and a punt over a career. Harvin Clark, who played for the Gators from 1969-1971, was the first.
UF coach Urban Meyer gave James, who has had three kick return touchdowns called back due to a penalty over his career, a warm welcome back to the sideline.
Meyer, who is also the special teams coach, stresses the importance of swinging the game through the "third" side of the ball.
"He works awful hard at his job," Meyer said. "He inspires the guys blocking for him."
With the departure of Percy Harvin, Meyer has given James an expanded role within the offense, lining him up in the slot on a regular basis.
The move yielded mixed results against the Buccaneers as James caught a screen pass for a 25-yard gain, but dropped a wide-open touchdown as well.
Charleston Southern also did a good job of bottling up the preseason first-team All-SEC return man on punts, holding him to 13 yards on four returns.
James even uncharacteristically fumbled one punt, which he recovered, and stepped out of bounds on another angled toward the sideline.
He made his last play of the night count, however, in front of the football-starved home crowd.
After practice last week, James said he hoped to only have one shot at scoring on a kickoff - the opening kickoff - because that would mean the defense was shutting out its opponent.
But the Gators ended up kicking off to start the game, and James almost didn't get any chances to break the decade-long drought.
As for whether or not this cements his legacy as the greatest return man in UF history, James isn't sure.
"I'll let the fans and coaches and teammates be the judge of that," he said. "I just try to make a big play every time I step out on the field."