COLUMBIA — When the Rock Bridge football team's season began with three wins, most of the pieces were fitting into place for the Bruins.
The oversized defensive line was living up to its waist size, tailback Freeman Simmons was finding holes after a slow season debut and young receivers Zach Reuter and Alex Ofodile were establishing a rhythm with sophomore quarterback Logan Twehous.
Rock Bridge (4-3) vs. Liberty (4-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
There was only one question.
Kenny James, a senior receiver and 2011 second-team All-State selection, was struggling to match his junior-year output on the field and the stats page. One Friday night in September changed all of that.
After only finding the end zone twice in the Bruins' first five games, James left little doubt about his explosiveness with three touchdowns during the Sept. 28 35-6 victory over visiting team Helias Catholic. He scored twice on receptions and once on a kick return, each play going more than 50 yards.
Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said it was only a matter of time.
"Honestly, he's played a great season," Ofodile said. "We've had so many just circumstantial things where the ball didn't end up in his hands. Of all the times that he's been open this year, we may have missed on a protection, missed on a throw or something like that. His numbers could be, they're pretty good anyway, but they could really be astronomical right now."
Along with Reuter, James currently leads the Bruins in touchdowns with six and is averaging 14.7 yards per reception. A.J. Ofodile said James' recent offensive burst has him on pace to surpass the All-State statistics from his junior year.
James could care less.
"Might sound crazy, but I really don't play for the stats," he said. "I play for my team. But I always feel like if, as a playmaker, I don't make plays, I feel like didn't do enough. So I always come with the mindset of 'I have to make plays, I have to do this, I have to do that.' Not just to win, but to motivate our team."
A.J. Ofodile said James is Rock Bridge's biggest playmaker and one of the best natural football players to come through the program in his 12-year tenure with the Bruins. He said that James' All-State ranking in the coaches' poll last season, despite not having the same numbers as other players on the ballot, is a testament to the coaches' respect for James and his ability to post big numbers during Rock Bridge's tough schedule of games.
"The numbers that he put up last year, just like the numbers he's put up this year, every week, week in, week out, it's against quality competition," A.J. Ofodile said. "There's no cheap ones, there's no easy nights. So I think just with us, when you look at our numbers, you kind of have to put a positive asterisk by it (because) you know anybody from our team that has decent statistics put them up against some pretty tough competition."
James has received offers to play at the University of Memphis and Miami University in Ohio, and A.J. Ofodile expects him to receive more offers as the year goes on. While James' focus is on helping his high school team succeed, going to college is still a motivator.
"It's big. I'm pretty sure it'd make everybody in my family proud. Just the hard work I've been through. I was so slow sophomore year. It progressed, progressed, progressed, progressed, and it just shows me that the hard work paid off," James said.
Another motivator? Playing with Missouri commit and Rock Bridge defensive tackle A.J. Logan.
"It makes me want to play harder," James said. "I get to play with a football recruit. He's already committed to a D1, SEC school ... and his enthusiasm, his effort that he puts in, it's so influencing to me. I love it."
As much effort as James puts into football — A.J. Ofodile noted the strength and speed James added in the offseason — the sport still plays second-string.
"School comes first," James said. "School and my grades and the ACT comes first, and then I'll worry about the football. Because I can be the best player there is on the football field, but if my grades are bad, that won't get me nowhere."
Conveniently, football helps alleviate some of that pressure.
"It just takes my mind off of so much," James said. "Because I love the game of football. It's my life. It's my only ticket. I love to play football. I don't know what else I can do. If I didn't play football, I'd be an ordinary kid."
Not that ordinary. One other thing James can do is dance, sophomore Alex Ofodile said. Whether it's with his feet or his mouth, James is always keeping his teammates smiling.
"Kenny's probably one of the funniest guys I know," Alex Ofodile said. "He's always having fun, always trying to find fun, even out of serious situations."
James said that's part of playing.
"The game, you have to be serious, but here and there you have to have fun," James said. You don't want to be on the field all serious the whole time."