Twice-denied punt returner waved in

Published November 19, 2006

GAINESVILLE - As Brandon James returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown, his coach, teammates and everyone else sat waiting.

They had seen it twice before.

James ran right past a flag and his mind flashed back to Florida's games against Tennessee and Georgia.

In both, James took a punt return into the end zone only to have it called back by illegal blocks in the back.

"I was waiting like however many people were sitting there watching that," coach Urban Meyer said. "I'm probably not allowed to say this, but I was ready to go choke whoever the penalty was on. Not one time have I heard him complain ... about a penalty."

This penalty was against Western Carolina, and the Gators celebrated their first punt-return touchdown since Nov. 11, 2000, when Lito Sheppard scored against South Carolina.

"I ran past the flags, so I'm thinking here it goes again," James said. "But after the ruling came up, it was a great feeling."

James caught the line-drive punt at the 23-yard line, and a hole opened in the middle.

"Once I got the ball, holes just opened up, and I just ran through them," James said.

He sped through the hole, then cut to the right sideline.

Punter Tim Mayse was the only man to beat and he had an angle on James. But James was too fast, and he ran right by Mayse into the end zone.

"I couldn't let him tackle me," James said. "I would've heard about that one for the rest of the year."

James has impressed Meyer, especially considering what Meyer thought of James when he first saw him. James is listed at 5 feet 7, 180 pounds, and Meyer had to be sold by James' high school coach and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

"I took Joey Wiles' advice, the head coach at St. Augustine," Meyer said. "He said, 'You're nuts if you don't take him,' just like that. And our defensive coordinator, Coach Mattison, talked me into it. We've got his butt for three more years. He's a really good player and a better person. I love that kid."

James also set a Florida record for punt-return yards in a game with 155, and that was all in the first half. The record of 145 was held by Jacquez Green, against Kentucky on Sept. 28, 1996.

James didn't know about the record, but he gave his teammates all the credit.

"That's new to me. That's a good feeling also, but all the credit goes to the 10 guys blocking for me. I did the easy part and just ran with the ball."