KNOXVILLE — Though he's a 6-foot-6, 323-pound offensive tackle, Ja'Wuan James exudes an unassuming personality.
With different moments from his Tennessee career in mind, the Volunteers' senior has his eye on becoming a leader in his unit's meeting room, the huddle with the other 10 offensive players and for his entire team.
Some of his closest teammates will tell you James is anything but quiet, yet for the Vols' right tackle, it's simply about speaking up more consistently.
"[It's] probably talking a lot more," he said after one spring practice last month. "I've never really been one to talk and yell out and correct somebody and stuff like that in the meeting room or whatever, but I feel like that's where I've stepped up a lot. I feel like [it's] talking, letting people know when they've messed up, letting people know they need to pick it up and letting people know when they did a good job as well.
"It's different. When I was younger, I was playing and trying to listen to the guys, and right now I feel like I'm supposed to be that guy talking for somebody to listen to. I just want to be a leader, and if anybody needs something, I want them to be able to come to me with any questions."
With spring practice in the rearview mirror, Tennessee transitions to the longest part of the offseason, which consists of summer programs and so-called "voluntary" workouts with strength and conditioning coaches.
Most of the work, though, is player-led, putting the onus on the team's leadership, something first-year Vols coach Butch Jones believes can be honed and improved. He even said there are plans to have some members of the Navy SEALs come and speak to the team. Tennessee also elected what Jones called a "player staff" toward the end of spring practice.
"I think leadership is a skill that you have to practice and perform every day," he said. "There are no off days in leadership. We're going to continue to strive and teach them what makes a great leader, and that's something you have to practice each and every day.
"Leadership is hard, because it's making decisions first of all upon yourself and living the right way, but it's also holding each other to a very high level or responsibility and accountability."
For James, who's started all 37 games of his Tennessee career, some of that responsibility is now on his broad shoulders.
"I've seen a lot these last few years," he said. "I felt like at times back then I wanted to say something or I wanted to change something, but I feel like I didn't have the say-so or the authority. I don't want to regret anything, so I just want to go out here and give it my all and try to bring everybody along with me."
Zach Fulton, the right guard who's started 28 games next to James and is one of his closest friends, said he's noticed a more vocal teammate in meetings, workouts and practice.
"He has really taken pride in the fact that he wants to be the voice," added offensive line coach Don Mahoney. "He's the one guy that I've been calling or texting and reminding, 'Hey, make sure the guys are early for the meeting tomorrow,' just as a reminder that he's walking in my shoes. Walk in my shoes, and you make sure they're ready.
"You make sure they're here, and if some guy's dragging or struggling behind, you're calling them. He's taken pride in the fact that, 'You know what, this is my last go, I've got to do something about this.' He's really doing a good job."
James likely would concede his leadership is a work in progress, and though he said the toughest part has been expanding it from his fellow offensive linemen to the entire offense and entire team, he's certainly aware of the role and his part in filling it.
"At first I was trying to take it on myself," he said. "Then the coaches, they said the same thing: we need it from somebody, the team needs leadership. [Strength coach Dave] Lawson, he was talking to me the other day about how a lot of the guys respect me and respect what I say, and if I'm coming ready in the weight room, everybody will be ready and I need to keep pushing everybody.
"As a group, I want our group to be the most responsible group on the team. I want everybody to be able to rely on us. I want Coach Jones and Coach Mahoney to be able to rely on us, and I feel like everybody in our room is capable of that, so I'm just keeping everybody together and doing the right things and stuff like that."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...