He couldn’t help himself.

Wednesday afternoon, as Dexter James walked out of the A.W. Mumford Field House, having just reported for preseason camp at Southern University, he spotted a handful of running backs a few feet away.

It was high time for James, a defensive tackle, to get in the first shot of football season.

“Hey,” he said, flashing a devilish grin. “You know the defense (is) going to make it hard on y’all, right?”

Ah, the in-house trash-talk - a staple of any college football camp. The Jaguars’ first practice hasn’t yet begun, and already, verbal shots are in the air.

Teammates might have forgiven James if he was all smiles Wednesday. He missed this.

Almost two years have passed since James last wore a game-day uniform. But second-year coach Stump Mitchell has said James will be a key part of SU’s modified defense - and the player, now a fifth-year senior, is eager to get back to football.

“It’s time,” James said. “Time to go, time to get ready, time to get after it.”

OK, so maybe preseason camp isn’t much fun. After all, Southern’s season opener at Tennessee State is still four weeks away, and until then, the players will practice, practice, practice. The team has conditioning drills Thursday morning, followed by its first practice in the afternoon.

It’ll be a hot one. Thursday’s forecast calls for a high of 97 degrees, with “heat index values as high as 110,” according to the National Weather Service.

Loads of fun.

“Yeah. Blazing hot,” James said. “We’re going to have to suck it up, I guess.”

Still, he has missed this. He had no choice.

Former coach Pete Richardson and his staff regarded James, a former Brusly High School standout, as a great athlete with lots of potential.

He played defensive end as a sophomore in 2008, recording 30 tackles and four sacks, then moved to defensive tackle the following year.

Heading into the 2009 season, James looked like he might have a breakout year.

But a series of minor injuries forced James to miss a chunk of preseason practice. Then, in the third game of the season, against Tennessee State, James suffered a shoulder injury. It never healed in time for him to return.

The worst was yet to come.

Last year, James was back in business, working with the first-team defense through most of preseason camp.

About a week before the opener against Delaware State, he came into the locker room and found a voicemail message on his cell phone.

It was from SU academic counselor Sheila Minor, who said James was academically ineligible.

“I didn’t handle my business from the year before. Then, over the summer, I didn’t have enough classes to get back eligible,” said James, who has changed majors, from engineering to criminal justice.

“My GPA had dropped and I had to repeat some classes to pick it back up.”

So he sat, waited and watched an awful season unfold. Most Southern fans are trying to forget last year’s 2-9 record, the worst in school history. To James, it was downright horrifying. The Jaguars were losing, and he couldn’t do a thing about it.

Now, he can. He’s back.

“The camp part is not going to be new. But it’s going to be a good feeling, getting back out there. So I’m going to make the best of it and let the past be the past.”

After last season, the rest of the team has the same thing in mind.