Kendall James grew up in New Jersey as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A fifth-year senior at the University of Maine, James is willing to change his allegiance, however, to the franchise that calls out his name during the NFL draft in early May.
“At this point,” James said, “whoever takes me, that’s my favorite team.”
A three-year starter at cornerback, James is one of dozen members of the Colonial Athletic Association champion Black Bears who plan to work out Monday before seven NFL scouts on Maine’s annual Pro Day. The players will run, jump, lift, scamper between cones and try to make an impression that may prolong their playing careers.
Tight end Justin Perillo and defensive end Michael Cole have also drawn interest from NFL scouts, but only James was invited to the league’s combine in late February in Indianapolis to see how he stacked up with players from the major Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
“It was crazy,” James said. “You were always busy. It was fun meeting all the players you see on TV and meeting the coaches and general managers. It was exciting.”
Despite a nagging hamstring injury, James jumped 39 inches (only two cornerbacks had better vertical leaps) and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, good for seventh best.
“I performed pretty well,” he said. “I was like, top seven or top 10 in everything except the bench press.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rated James eighth on a list of cornerbacks and called him “the sleeper of the draft” at that position.
“I’m considered a sleeper because I’m from Maine,” James said. “I know I’m not a sleeper, but it’s OK.”
The most recent Black Bear selected in the draft was safety Jerron McMillian, taken in the fourth round by Green Bay in 2012 as the 133rd overall selection. He won the starting strong safety job to open the 2013 season but was released in early December after slipping down the depth chart.
No Black Bears were selected last spring, when only one scout ventured to Orono to observe the Pro Day workouts. On Monday, a holdover from that group, linebacker Donte Dennis, will join James, Perillo, Cole and nine other members of last fall’s 10-3 squad that earned, for the first time in school history, a home playoff game.
Also testing themselves before the stopwatches and clipboards Monday will be quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, tailback Rickey Stevens, defensive end Erwin Roach, offensive linemen Tyler Patterson and Joe Hook, wide receiver Derrick Johnson, linebacker Joe Hook and defensive backs Jamal Clay and Nick Cox.
James said his right hamstring isn’t yet at full strength but has improved significantly. He’s hoping to improve on his Indianapolis performances in Orono, where many of the team’s underclassmen will watch, learn and dream of their own future.
Since losing to New Hampshire in the quarterfinal round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the program has had to deal with the difficult news of a death and an arrest. Dominic Cusano, a 2010 graduate who finished his playing career in 2011 and followed in the footsteps of an older brother, Dave, who won all-conference honors at Maine in 2002, died on March 9 in Connecticut.
Three days later, Zedric Joseph, a senior tailback whose season was cut short by a broken leg in the third game last fall, was arrested in connection with a Florida stabbing involving two victims. Only one victim survived.
“It’s hard to hear all those things; it definitely hit me hard when I hear them,” James said. “But at the same time, I have a job to do. For me and my family and friends, I really have to block it out.”
James earned his undergraduate degree last May in business management. He took non-degree graduate courses in the fall during his final season of eligibility and plans to leave Orono in a few weeks to return home to New Jersey.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: