Florida football: Linebacker Shemar James taking advantage of first full spring with Gators

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida linebacker Shemar James was thrust into SEC play as a true freshman and proved he could handle it.

 In close to 400 snaps last season, James had 47 tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

James, out of Mobile, Alabama, is looking to build off that experience in his first full offseason with the Gators. Last year, James didn’t enroll until the summer, making his ability to absorb the defense and earn playing time as a true freshman even more impressive.

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“Shemar's really, really talented,” Florida inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman said. “The thing I love about him is if I say something to him or (defensive coordinator Austin) Armstrong says something to him, it gets applied the next day. He's got a really high ceiling. He's going to play a bunch of football here and he's going to be a really good player."

A bigger role for James in UF defense

James started 4 of 13 games last season. With starting linebackers Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney having exhausted their eligibility, James could take on even more responsibility for UF’s defense this season.

“I feel like I stepped up to the plate to be that next leader,” James said. “I'm communicating more, I'm more vocal this year. So I feel like it's been a pretty productive spring."

Florida Gators linebacker Shemar James (6) brings down South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Jaheim Bell (0) in the first half. Florida hosted the South Carolina Gamecocks in the last home game of the season at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, November 12, 2022. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

James has been leading the inside linebackers throughout spring drills, a group that includes Scooby Williams and Derek Wingo. The latter has sat out this spring while recovering from offseason surgery.

“We're not satisfied right now because it's still a lot of football to be played,” James said. “Still a lot of practice to be had. So, I would say I'm pretty confident with the group that we have, inside linebackers and just the defense as a unit as well."

Bateman said he’s “100 percent” comfortable with James making the calls on defense.

“He’s been blessed with a lot of gifts,” Bateman said. “He's extremely powerful. He’ll run fast. I don’t know if he’s as fast as Burney, but he’s really close.”

James makes significant gains in the weight room

Florida football strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke credited James as a player who made significant gains in the weight room. James was one of six players on UF’s roster to clean 335 pounds during the offseason.

“He was just a pup last year,” Hocke said. “He learned from two great leaders in Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney. And now I think he’s stepping into year two. He has a better understanding of the offseason program and season expectations and he’s got a chance to flash.”

At 228 pounds, James said he feels both stronger and leaner.

“The weight room was another thing that I wanted to improve on, just getting bigger, faster and stronger,” James said. “And I’ll say, for me, it was kind of cutting down some of the fat-building, some of the muscle, so I never was like a big, swollen guy. So, I feel like playing well, you need to be able to run and move, so that’s why I’m kind of keeping a slimmer stature.”

James could benefit this season from more bigger bodies up front to occupy blockers. Florida’s defensive line rotation will be deeper with the addition of transfers Caleb Banks (6-foot-6, 315) and Cam’Ron Jackson (6-6 355). Redshirt freshman Chris McClellan (6-3, 321) also has put on 20 pounds.

“They're big humans and they can run,” James said. “Like Caleb Banks, like, he's a big human being. Like Cam'Ron Jackson. I mean, those are just some big, physical guys and everybody's not built like that. And I mean, I feel like we're gonna have a great season with those guys in front of us."