By: Taylor Gaines
Getting home on time is very important to Frederick James.
Although he drives 3,500 to 4,000 miles per week as a truck driver for RWH Trucking and sees places all over the country, the only place he wants to be each Friday is his “home base” in Gainesville, Fla.
“I gotta go,” he said. “That’s my motto. ‘Gotta go.’”
It won’t be long before his son Tony has “gotta go” too, but his new home will be across the country.
A senior running back for Gainesville High School, Tony James is currently committed to play college football at the University of Oregon. On Feb. 5, National Signing Day, he plans to make that official.
Tony is a four-star recruit, ranked by Rivals.com as the fifth-best all-purpose running back in the nation. The five-foot-nine senior is also ranked as the 129th best player in the country (and 17th in Florida) at any position.
His parents and his sister, Kaila, have been there to support him throughout the recruiting process and have never missed out on an important trip to a school or a camp.
It can be difficult financially, Tony said, and the recruiting process can be emotional and stressful, but his family’s support has never wavered.
“I’ve seen them go through some ups and downs in their life,” he said. “And somehow, they keep finding the courage to get up in the morning and go to work, and do everything that they normally do despite what’s going on.
“I know it’s a struggle. And I know money ain’t free.”
Frederick and his wife, Shantell Brooks, have been working for years to save money for their children’s college educations. They never imagined Tony’s would come in the form of a full scholarship.
“It’s like the whole world is off my shoulders now,” Frederick said.
Watching Tony on the football field has always had an uplifting effect on his father. Carrying the same number as his dad, 21, on his jersey, Tony has given him a glimpse of what could have been.
Frederick seemed to be on his way to playing college football before having his first child in high school forced him to quit sports and start working to support his family.
He said witnessing his son’s success enables him to continue living out his dream. When he watches Tony on the football field, all of his petty stresses and worries melt away.
Seeing his son play, he said, is “like hitting the lottery for that one hour.”
Tony isn’t just motivated by his dad’s dreams. The youngest of five brothers, he wants to be the first in his family to play at the collegiate level.
“I play this game not just for me, but for my family,” he said. “If I succeed, then they also succeed.”
It’s never been easy for Tony, Brooks said. Several obstacles stood in his way of reaching the point he is at today.
When he was a kid, Tony said, he preferred to stay at home and keep to himself. It was only when his mother got sick of him sitting around the house at seven or eight years old that he first found himself on a football field.
It was in his first season that he scored five touchdowns in a single game.
But there have still always been doubts.
Gainesville High School head coach Mark Latsko said when Tony ran a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash at a football camp in Florida, the scouting report said he was a pure speed guy who couldn’t run between the tackles.
“His toughness was a question,” Latsko said.
Tony proved many of his doubters wrong during his senior season, Latsko said. He finished the year with 1,242 yards on 173 carries, averaging 7.18 yards per run.
But he still has one obstacle left to overcome.
During the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in California on Jan. 5, a lineman fell on his ankle, popping it out of its socket, tearing two ligaments and cracking his fibula. He had to have surgery that put two screws in place and is looking at six to eight weeks of recovery.
Frederick isn’t worried.
“If he left at 100 percent,” he said, “he’s gonna come back at 110-to-115 percent.”
Brooks said that Tony has always had good perspective on the importance of education versus football. He has a plan for five, even ten years down the road, as to how he wants things to play out.
After his football career, Tony said he wants to get into business and finance. Football may come and go, but his education will stay with him and help him to provide for his own family.
Family was an important reason why he picked a school at the opposite end of the country, Tony said. The coaches at Oregon treated him like he was someone they cared about, not just another body to fill the roster. He felt like they wanted to get to know Tony the person, not Tony the football player.
“It was like me talking to my dad and not me talking to a coach.”
His parents said sending him all the way to Eugene, Ore., will be tough, but they can handle it.
“Am I gonna cry?” Frederick wondered. “I’m gonna try not to. Is his momma gonna cry? Yes.”
Despite the distance, his parents said, family will always be there to support him.
“That’s why they have planes,” Brooks said. “You go on the plane. You go to see your child play.”
Like Frederick said, you just gotta go.