Hard work, experience and full acceptance of a new approach have combined to give Airline one of the area’s most formidable defenses.
So it’s no surprise Josh James stands out as a key leader for the Vikings in his third year as a starter. Meeks said he’s proud of the way the 5-foot-11 senior steps up when needed to talk to his teammates to make sure they’re always focused on improving and learning their schemes.
“I think he’s always been great at preparing and working hard,” Meeks said. “I think just maturity as far as a player, and also with the changes to the defense this year, learning how he fits in and where he needs to be on each particular play.”
That often starts with early morning film sessions, when defensive coordinator Seth Stowell prepares the gameplan for Friday night. James said everyone’s bought into the “study guides” so they know where they need to be every play, and he’s always ready to direct others if necessary.
The results speak for themselves after three straight shutouts, including one against previously undefeated Captain Shreve. Other than a 29-19 loss to Ruston, the Vikings haven’t given up more than eight points in any of their first six games.
“It’s awesome,” said James, Airline’s leading tackler. “You’ve got to kind of humble yourself because it makes you want to get a big hit, but I think our defense is good at just staying humble.”
They don’t have any stars or sought-after recruits among their nine senior starters, and other than James’ selection to the Second Team, none All-City recognition from The Times last year. Even he’s undersized at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds, but Meeks said James doesn’t get enough credit for how well he runs.
James learned as a sophomore it would take plenty of heart and determination for him to play among much bigger players. He’s also one of the defense’s most intelligent players on and off the field, with a GPA Meeks said is close to perfect.
That should help him in his quest to play at the next level, and he’s already spoken with coaches at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. An obvious love for the game makes James the type of player Meeks said coaches should want on their team.
“I think that he definitely is a next level player,” Meeks said. “His ability to run sideline to sideline is something that I think is going to impress people on film.”
Before he worries too much about that, though, James know he needs to stay focused on a tough four-game stretch to finish the season, starting this week against Haughton. The task will become even more difficult for Airline’s defense when it faces Evangel and Parkway’s elite athletes at the skill positions, not to mention the Eagles’ dominant offensive line.
Regardless of the opponent, the Vikings’ approach won’t change. Stowell and leaders like James, fellow seniors defensive back D’Kameron White and defensive end Drew Brewster want to play fast, stick to their gameplan, and cause disruptions in the backfield.
So far, it’s working out just fine.