COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge High School football team was down 21-0 Friday when head coach A.J. Ofodile turned to Kenny James.
He told James, a junior known for his scoring abilities at wide receiver and running back, to head back into the game.
Rock Bridge (3-2) vs. Helias Catholic (3-2)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City
“I kind of looked like 'why me?'” James said, his eyes bulging and hands jutting out to his sides as a similar look of panic overcame his face.
His voiced thinned, barely reaching a falsetto, as he recalled his initial thought: “Uh, no. Take Brad Troyer or something,” James said, referring to a teammate.
He was half-kidding, half-serious.
“It was a little scary because I ain’t know what to do, kind of stood there and froze a little bit,” he said. “And I just had to go in and suck it up.”
James returned to the field confused, lost and out of position.
“They say ‘you got tight end, you got tight end,'” James recalled. “And I’m looking at the sign like ‘who has where, who has where?’”
“He snaps the ball, and I’m like ‘oh, oh my God,’ and I just drop back. But I moved a little too slow, ” James said, swooping back and forth and across the grass, his hands and feet flying in all directions as he re-enacts the experience.
James and his coaches couldn't have predicted what happened next.
“And then the ball came, and I’m just standing there and it’s in my hands,” James said.
He had his first interception.
“First time he’s ever played safety, first play he gets an interception,” Rock Bridge defensive coordinator Justin Conyers said, laughing in bewilderment as he relived the moment. “He just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Injuries to teammates mean the Bruins, already six weeks into the season, will count on James to play all three positions.
“He’s what I would consider a natural football player,” Ofodile said. “I mean, he’s a kid that could play just about any position you put him in. He’s got some pretty unique natural skills.”
Ofodile spoke about James in a calm and confident tone.
“We’re playing him at receiver, we’re playing him at safety, we’re playing him all over the place,” he said. “He can do all those things and picks up all those things quickly."
James has been practicing his new position all week and is learning different footwork and dissecting specific defensive coverages.
“This week, we are trying to make sure that he’s caught up on all of his reads and all of his coverage and knows where he has to be on the field,” Conyers said.
Midway through practices, James changes out of his green defense jersey and into his white offense jersey. He doesn’t seem concerned about being on the field the entire time.
“It’s cool, it’s all right,” James said. “I ain’t too worried about it. Defense is fine. Offense is fine, too."
Rock Bridge (3-2) looks to end its two-game losing streak against Helias Catholic (3-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Jefferson City. James will look to provide the same spark on defense as he does on offense.
As for more interceptions this week, there are no guarantees.
“Ball got thrown right to him, and he made the play,” Ofodile said. “But that was kind of one of those, luck of the draw, Johnny on the spot, right place at the right time (situations).”
But if and when an interception happens, chances are James will be on the field.