Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of excerpts from The Advocate’s upcoming book, “LSU BY THE NUMBERS,” celebrating the best player (and other greats) to wear each number in Tigers football history. This week: No. 11, Bradie James.
When he was in high school, Bradie James started out playing the trumpet in the band at powerhouse West Monroe, not on the football team. And he wanted to be the next Karl Malone in basketball like the former star at nearby Louisiana Tech, not the next Lawrence Taylor.
But football turned out to be James’ true calling. And he turned out to be one of LSU’s greatest linebackers ever.
“When you looked at him as a middle linebacker, this is what a middle linebacker is supposed to look like,” LSU athletic trainer Jack Marucci said. “He could run, he was smart, he had the character, he had the processing. He was the standard.”
Born in 1981 in Monroe, James was a Parade All-American star at West Monroe before heading south to LSU in 1999. He got to know Lafayette native Trev Faulk during the recruiting process and they decided to attend LSU together, forming one of the program’s best-ever linebacking duos in 2000 and 2001. The latter season resulted in the Tigers’ first SEC championship since 1988.
Faulk left a year early for the NFL after the 2001 season, but James stayed for one more run. What resulted was a season for the ages. He piled up 154 tackles after recording 110 in 2000 and 113 in 2001, besting Albert Richardson’s school record from 1981 by four. James finished with 418 career tackles, second only to Richardson’s 452.
James scooped up an armful of All-American and All-SEC honors after his senior season. Along with his recognition on the field, James was a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete in 2002.
But his years at LSU weren’t all golden. Recruited by Gerry DiNardo, James and Faulk did not jell right away with new coach Nick Saban, a factor in Faulk’s early departure for the NFL. And while he was in college, James had to bury both his parents.
He said he turned to his teammates as family, and that in turn perhaps made him a better player. So did a new bond with Saban, who told him his story of losing his father at a similar age.
“When you have family,” James said in 2019 when he was enshrined in the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, “you become accountable to them.
“I found my family.”
James lasted into the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft before the Dallas Cowboys scooped him up. But he proved to be a durable and dependable linebacker, starting every game for the Cowboys from 2005-10 before wrapping up his NFL career with the Houston Texans in 2012.
Not bad for a guy who once figured he would be anything but a football player.
To pre-order “LSU BY THE NUMBERS” and receive a $10 discount off the $39.95 cover price, please visit www.LSUPictorialBook.com. The book will be published in November and ships Dec. 4, 2020.