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Reborn JJ has impressed teammates this fall

He’s thinner. He’s faster. But he still packs a powerful punch.

Teammates of running back Javarris James (6-0, 207) have seen a different side of the University of Miami senior this fall. And they say Hurricanes fans are going to like what they see from him against the Seminoles Monday night in Tallahassee.

Javarris James lost 15 pounds in the offseason and impressed teammates this fall in earning starting job at tailback. “He’s a lot faster, but he’s still powerful, too,” linebacker Colin McCarthy said. “JJ can make a cut and be gone. Before, you wouldn’t expect that. He’s definitely been running faster.”

“He’s definitely more quicker as a running back now,” linebacker Sean Spence said. “He still has the power he did before. But he’ll give you a step and probably out run you. I’ll put it to you this way -- if you get behind him, he’s hard to catch.”

“He’s a lot more shifty now,” safety Randy Phillips said. “He’s way quicker and faster. He’s lightning fast now.”

Lightning fast is how James’ career began. The cousin of UM great Edgerrin James made Canes fans’ toes tingle when he was a freshman – rushing for 802 yards and five touchdowns, the second most for a true freshman in UM history. But added weight (he went up to 220 as a sophomore) and ankle and neck injuries slowed him down his next two seasons. He played in nine games last season and ran for just 286 yards and four TDs.

But this spring, at the request of coach Randy Shannon, James cut out his late night runs to McDonald’s. He replaced 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, fries and Oreo McFlurries with fruits and salads.

The results were almost instantaneous. James ran a 4.41 – sixth fastest on the team in the spring (a full second faster than the year before) while still putting up the third best squat on the team at 545 pounds, behind only Harland Gunn (600) and Allen Bailey (565). The speed and quickness has translated onto the field this fall where Shannon said Thursday "he’s looked the best he has since his freshman year."

But Phillips, who has played alongside James since he arrived in 2006, expects a huge season out of Baby J. “We’re seniors and this is the last go-around,” Phillips said. “A lot of guys can record a great 40 [time], but they don’t run at that speed. Now, Javarris, every time he gets the ball, he runs really hard and really fresh because he’s lighter.

“He looks way better than he did his freshman year. He’s a 1,000-yard back – he and [Graig] Cooper. That’s what we’re going to try get him to be, maybe even a 500 yard receiver too. He’s able to [catch more passes] now because he’s quicker, able to pick up blocks. He’s been tremendous in camp.”

Graig Cooper COOPER MORE INVOLVED ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Consider James' resurgence a big reason why the Canes felt comfortable enough to let 2007 and 2008 leading rusher Graig Cooper handle punts and kickoffs. While Cooper will still get plenty of work in the Canes' backfield, Phillips said UM coaches have confidence James can do the heavy lifting.

That way, it will free up Cooper (who ran a 4.37 in the spring) to do what he does best -- explode in the open field. After James went down against Florida, Canes coaches had to reel in Cooper from the return game. Cooper had just three punt returns -- one he brought back for a score -- and four kick returns all season. "He looks just like Devin Hester, and you all will get a chance to see that more this year, too," Phillips said. "To me, when he gets the ball, he runs just like Devin."

MORNING PRACTICE VS. NIGHT GAME: The Hurricanes had their final 5:45 a.m. practice Friday in preparation for Florida State. For two weeks, Shannon has had the team practice before the crack of dawn to avoid losing the practices to afternoon thunderstorms. I know some of you have asked if that might cause a problem considering UM will be playing Florida State at night. When asked about it Thursday, Shannon said he didn't think it would be a problem because the team held its closed scrimmages at night.

"When we watched, evaluated tape [from the scrimmages] they played faster and hustled more and made less mistakes when we played at night," Shannon said. "The one thing you forget about with morning practices is it's very humid, no air out there. It’s thick. Conditioning wise, it was really good for us as a football team because it makes you work through hard times... If you lose that practice you can never make it up. That's one key for us."

HANKERSON FELT URGENCY: Leonard Hankerson emerged as one of UM’s starting receivers when the depth chart was unveiled Thursday. Make no bones about it, Hankerson took his summer workouts with former Dolphin Mark Duper seriously because he was afraid he might not ever see the field if he didn’t do something about his drops quickly.

“I knew if I didn’t work hard in the offseason and just kept dropping the balls and was not focused on catching them I knew I wouldn’t be playing,” Hankerson said. “I had to step my game up so I could do what I needed in the fall. I embraced the challenge. It wasn’t anything to stress out about. I know I can go out and make plays. It’s just something I had to do.”