When Dazmin James transferred to Clayton High School last spring, there was no way of knowing that the school on Fayetteville Street would be the start of the road that led him to Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Not only had he played only sparingly in football and never run track at his previous school, but the North Carolina native’s academics would have scared away any potential college suitors — of which there were none.
So last weekend’s commitment to the Arkansas football and track programs came not only as a surprise to fans of the Razorbacks, but capped an unlikely rise from relative obscurity for James.
“It is a rags-to-riches story,” Clayton High football coach Scott Chadwick told Best of Arkansas Sports.
In the span of about a year, James emerged as a legitimate Division I wide receiver on the field and took care of business in the classroom, helping him land a handful of offers.
He ultimately turned down North Carolina State, the hometown school located just 30 minutes away, and Liberty, where Chadwick’s son is on staff, for a chance to play in the toughest conference in college football. James fills the final available scholarship for Arkansas football, bringing it to the 85-man limit allowed by the NCAA.
June is very late even when compared to most other late additions in recruiting classes. At this point, almost four months after the traditional February signing day, teams are usually reaching on players just to fill spots.
That’s not the case for James, who stands 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and was a North Carolina state champion sprinter. Some recruiting outlets don’t have him ranked, but 247Sports gave him an 89 grade and On3 gave him an 88, making him a high three-star prospect.
“Usually you can get maybe a sleeper or a last-minute guy for one of these last-second scholarships, but he’s a dude,” Chadwick said. “You’re talking about a 10.4 (second) 100-meter guy who had seven touchdowns of over 50 yards this past year.
“And really, his best days are well ahead of him… When he gets some one-on-one coaching and development at that level, he’s really, really going to take off.”
Dazmin James on the Field…
Returning to the high school ranks as the head coach at Clayton High last June, Scott Chadwick set out to learn about his new personnel.
The Comets were admittedly “pretty limited” on the offensive side of the ball, but one player — despite not having much experience — stood out early on.
“When I got there, I was told about this kid, ‘Hey, he’s a transfer kid, hasn’t played much, but man, he can fly,’” Chadwick said. “He had run a 4.35 at Tennessee’s camp, so I was like, ‘Well okay, at least we’ve got a kid that can run.’”
Throw in the fact that he had a 6-foot-2 frame and Dazmin James certainly looked the part, but he needed some coaching to learn the techniques required of wide receivers.
The result was him becoming the team’s Offensive Player of the Year, racking up nearly 1,000 yards and nine total touchdowns.
James caught 43 passes for 601 yards and five touchdowns while also running for another 321 yards and four scores on 27 carries.
“Obviously we threw it to him, but we’d line him up in the backfield and hadn’t it to him and then, last couple games, hell, we’d line him up at quarterback and run some option with him,” Chadwick said. “We did whatever we could do to put the ball in his hands, that’s for sure.”
Clayton’s season ended with a loss in the first round of the playoffs, but James wasn’t done competing for the Comets.
He shifted his focus to a brand new sport.
“Then he starts running track for the first time literally ever in his life,” Chadwick said. “I’m talking to the point of he goes out to the first couple days of track and didn’t even know there were starting blocks, didn’t even know what they were.”
Once he got that figured out, James started putting up good times almost immediately, winning some meets while still continuing to get faster as he got more comfortable in the sport.
The crowning moment came in the outdoor state championship meet late last month, when he won the 100- and 200-meter races with times of 10.46 seconds and 21.06 seconds, respectively, capturing those titles for Class 4A — the largest classification in North Carolina.
“He probably would have run a 10.3,” Chadwick said. “The last 10 meters, he raised his hands up in triumph and probably slowed him down.”
For a comparison, Arkansas redshirt freshman Isaiah Sategna, a former four-star recruit who also plans to run track for the Razorbacks, turned in a personal best of 10.90 seconds in the 100-meter dash while at Fayetteville High and won the state title as a senior with a time of 11.06 seconds.
…And in the Classroom
Despite his solid production on the field, Dazmin James still wasn’t getting much attention from Division I programs.
The issue was simple: He didn’t have the grades to qualify and it was going to take something close to a miracle to get him there.
Luckily for him, his head coach has been around the block a few times and was intimately aware of how NCAA qualification works from his time as the Director of Recruiting Operations at Maryland, where he had worked the previous year and a half.
“He had a good first semester and I took a look where he was and being in this role at Maryland, I learned some tricks with the NCAA,” Chadwick said. “Called them, got an idea of some things we could do and got them to take a second look at a couple things at his previous school.”
What it boiled down to was James taking – and earning a 3.0 GPA in – four core classes his final semester of high school. While some athletes may coast to graduation by taking things like weight training, Chadwick was asking him if he’d be willing to put his head down and grind to the finish.
It also had no guarantee of success, even if he got the job done in the classroom.
“The issue is that’s not until June and you’ve got to find a school that has scholarships available in June, No. 1,” Chadwick said. “And No. 2, one that can take you and get you into school, so it’s a tough road.”
On the flip side, James was already committed to Iowa Western C.C., so even if he failed to make the grades, he’d still have somewhere to play in the fall. If he did post the 3.0 GPA and didn’t find a Division I school, he could go to junior college as a full qualifier and be eligible to sign with a four-year school after just one semester instead of needing a two-year degree.
James decided it was worth trying and ended up getting it done.
“I think what it says is you’ve got a kid that when goals and things are put in front of him, he’s going to work to get them,” Chadwick said. “I think that’s on and off the field, certainly now in the classroom.”
Committing to Arkansas Football
When Scott Chadwick realized Dazmin James might actually make the grades necessary to get eligible, he started calling some schools he knew were under the 85-man scholarship limit and had room to take him.
One of those schools was Liberty because his son, Tyler, is an offensive quality control coach and had mentioned to him that they were under the number.
However, most of the coaches Chadwick contacted said they’d take a look at James, but didn’t want to promise anything before June, when his status would be 100% set.
When it became obvious he’d qualify, James backed off his pledge to Iowa Western C.C. and that got the ball rolling. It wasn’t long before North Carolina State and Liberty offered, which caused other schools to take notice.
Although Chadwick worked with Dan Enos for a year and a half at Maryland, it was actually Enos who reached out to him after Arkansas found out about James from a coach at Iowa Western.
“I think one of the Iowa Western coaches is friends with one of the Arkansas coaches and was basically lamenting that he lost his best recruit because the kid ended up getting eligible and was a receiver,” Chadwick said. “They were literally saving a scholarship for a receiver, anybody they could find, so they were like, ‘Oh, he’s a receiver? We need to check (on him).’ So they checked him out, watched his film, saw his track times and then Coach Enos called me.”
No specific name was mentioned, but Iowa Western C.C. head coach Scott Strohmeier has been there since the program started in 2009, so that means he coached Sebastian Tretola – whom Sam Pittman recruited to Arkansas football in the Class of 2014, when he was still the offensive line coach.
Whatever the connection was, it was a perfect match. James was looking for a school with an open spot and Arkansas was looking for a wide receiver to put the finishing touches on its 2023 roster. Both sides moved quickly to make it work.
“I mean, it was fast,” Chadwick said. “Dan and I talked Friday, they called the kid and he was on an official visit 12 hours later. Whirlwind would be an understatement.”
James had official visits to Liberty and North Carolina State set for this week, but canceled those when he committed during his trip to Fayetteville. He didn’t sign a National Letter of Intent, as the deadline to sign one of those was April 1, but he did sign an SEC financial aid agreement.
Dazmin James’ Final Act at Clayton High
Now entering his 24th season as a high school head coach, Scott Chadwick has sent 40-plus players on to Division I football, including North Carolina quarterback and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Drake Maye.
Only one of them faced a similar situation as Dazmin James, and that was running back Barrington Edwards in the Class of 2003. Chadwick helped him get eligible in time to sign with LSU, where he played as a true freshman on Nick Saban’s first national championship team before transferring to and graduating from North Carolina.
Still, what James had to overcome to sign with the Arkansas football program this late in the process makes him stand out.
“This is as unlikely a situation as I’ve probably ever encountered,” Chadwick said. “This kid already had signed with a JUCO. That’s how little hope there seemed to be.”
In his final act before joining the Razorbacks, James gave those at Clayton High one more thing to remember him for at the aforementioned state championship track meet.
Not only did he capture state titles in the two sprints, but he finally accomplished his goal of catching the state’s top sprinter and a Division I track recruit, Antwan Hughes Jr. from Parkland High in Winston-Salem, in the 100-meter dash.
“All year long, that guy was the guy Daz kept chasing,” Chadwick said. “At the state meet, if you go back and watch the 100-meter state championship, the kid jumps out to a huge lead. It was kind of a microcosm of Daz’s senior year: Way behind and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he just comes flying and passes the kid.”
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