James eyes ninth state championship

IMG_9990-1LINDEN — When his team steps onto the field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy just before noon Friday, it will mark the 17th time Robby James has coached in the state finals.

James, who turned 64 last Friday when his Marengo Academy Longhorns downed Abbeville Christian in the semis, has led his squad to a 12-0 campaign and the precipice of a championship.

“This team has been a lot of fun to work with. It all started really last year. We ended up 7-4 or whatever it was and had a good season. We got in the playoffs,” James said of a 2012 Longhorn squad that ended its year at 7-5 after a semi-final loss to the same Restoration Academy squad it will face Friday. “I loaded the guys up on the bus and went to Troy and we watched the state game. We got out on the field after it was over and just made a commitment right there. ‘Hey. We’re coming back. We’re going to play on this right here next year.’ They’ve talked about that little meeting several times. But we’ve worked hard in the weight room and these guys have made a commitment to get back and we’re tickled over that. Now we’ve got to try to do something with that opportunity that we have.”

Marengo vs Abbeville gallery-4882The environment is nothing new for James, who won a state title in his first trip to the AISA finals 30 years ago this week when his Catherine Academy Colts beat the Dixie Academy Rebels 20-18.

Marengo vs Abbeville gallery-5464James went on to win state titles at Catherine in 1985, 1991 and 1992. He would then further cement his legacy by winning state titles at Morgan Academy in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

“I’ve been there several times. I’ve been to 16 state championship games. This is a chance for these guys and it is not about me at all,” James said. “It’s about the boys and I’m just so thankful they’re going to get a chance to experience it. It’s a lot of fun and it’s something that you don’t forget. Every one of them is different.”

James would later go on to take his Faith Academy teams to the state finals on multiple occasions before taking the job as Marengo’s headmaster and coach in 2009.

“I’m proud of this team,” James said. “I’d put this one against any one of them I’ve had. They play hard and have got the heart that it takes to be a champion.”

That heart became evident to James and the Marengo faithful shortly after he began his tenure at the school.

“The first couple of years I was here, we had some athletes in place. My system is a little bit different than the one that they had. I think it took a little while, but I had some good teams there. We were in 3A ball and didn’t have a lot of depth. That was our biggest thing, we were smaller than most schools in numbers,” James recalled. “Then when they graduated, we ended up with a couple of years of no seniors. We even had a parent meeting about these same guys right here as eighth and ninth graders about if we were even going to have a varsity football team because we didn’t have enough older guys to have one.”

Marengo vs Abbeville gallery-5228The end result of that meeting was a conscious decision to allow the young crop of Longhorns to take their proverbial lumps.

“We’ve got guys that are 10th and 11th graders right now that have already started for three years. They are kind of veterans on the varsity football team, so they know what to expect,” James said. “Our boys play hard and they work hard. I’m proud to be a part of them. They represent us well.”

With 287 wins and eight state championships, James has mellowed considerably in his quest for a ninth title, leaving much of the yelling the often accompanies his position to Webb Tutt and other assistant coaches.

“Back when I was younger, it was more about being rah rah or whatever. Now, for me, I’m just thankful for all the memories that I’ve had,” James said.

James and his team will have the opportunity to make more memories Friday at noon when they look to win Marengo Academy’s first state championship since 2002.