By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Paul James III looks at his fellow defensive linemen and is impressed. But James, one of the newest Auburn football players, says his primary competition, and primary drive, comes from within.
"The reason why is because every day Coach tells us you'll never be the same: You're either going to get worse or you're going to get better. I just stick with that momentum and push myself."
James says he follows the lead of his position coach, Rodney Garner, in his effort to become a contributor this season. James already has the experience. He came to Auburn from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi via the University of Illinois via an All-Dade County selection in Miami.
He says he's good now after being slowed by a foot injury after his arrival in January.
"I'll say it was a little tough because coming off the injury I was out shape," James said. "I was thrown in the fire at the time. Missing three weeks of practice really hurt me, but it also gave me that edge to get back and go hard."
James will be battling for playing time in a defensive line with a lot of experience and familiar names. But James said they've been giving in teaching him the way.
"I just give it to the group of guys that are in my D-Line room. They are working with me a lot after practice and make sure I stay in my playbook," he said.
James is expected to help with the pass rush in the season-opener against Clemson on Sept. 3. And defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said James is making up for lost time.
"He's a smart football player so that helps him," Steele said. "There are still some things that happen where it's the first time he's seen it. He's a guy that is strong and powerful."
James said the spring was difficult because of injury. But he's worked since and lost, he guessed, 10-15 pounds.
"I paced myself and I was dedicated to get back in shape. I'll do little extra things on weekends and after practice. It's not too hard," he said.
He's versatile. He's playing both sides of the line
"It's a challenge. Every day is a challenge. We get new plays every day. Coach takes me one-on-one and walks me through the things that need to know. With him being on my side it's not very tough, but it is challenging," James said.
Going through Auburn's strength program is challenging as well.
"The strength program is off the roof," James said. "My body is way different than when I was at Illinois. We do way different exercises and lifting. It's a tremendous difference."
Garner is his teacher. Team captain and defensive end Carl Lawson has a few lessons, too.
"He wants to see us be great," James said. "He's a student of the game and he wants us to be a student of the game also. Everything, whether it’s watching film or going over this or that, he takes us with them. We’re joined like a chain."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine