The next few exclusive 2016 NFL Draft prospect interviews will be with some small school players who are trying to prove that there is NFL talent to be found in the lower divisions of college football. The next player hoping to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL is former Friends University offensive lineman James Tabor.
About James Tabor
James is from Warren, Ohio and grew up on the East side of town with his mom and older Brother Quwan who helped to raise him. He started playing football because his dad was a football coach.
As Warren is such a big football town that has produced some great NFL players James fell in love with football from an early age and played high school football at Warren JFK and then Warren Harding after he transferred for his junior year.
He was named first-team All-Steel Valley Conference, first-team All-Trumbull County and was the team’s Lineman of the Year at Warren Harding.
He was named first-team Preseason All-American and first-team All-KCAC at Friends before having his senior season cut short due to NAIA semester eligibility rule. James was selected to the 2015 FCS Bowl where he started at left guard.
Paul Frances (VAVEL.com): James I’d like to thank you on behalf of myself and VAVEL.com for giving up your time to take part in this interview today.
James: Thank you, it’s an honor to do this interview with you.
VAVEL: How old were you when you first started playing football?
James: I started playing football at 8 years for the Warren Little Raiders.
VAVEL: Growing up as a kid, playing football and watching the NFL, who were some of the players you admired and modeled your game on?
James: I grew up admiring mainly people from Warren like Maurice Clarett, Carl Diggs, LeShun Daniels Sr., Mario Manningham and Korey Stringer who was like a big brother to me before he passed away. I also watched guys like Alex Boone and Orlando Pace who made me take pride in being an Offensive Lineman.
VAVEL: Have you always played on the offensive line?
James: I was always Defensive Lineman growing up until my coach Sam Caputo at Warren Harding wanted me to play offensive line full time my junior year.
VAVEL: You have played at every position on the offensive line during your career, what is your proffered position to play?
James: I prefer to play guard but I know that center is going to be my position at the next level, which is actually my best position.
VAVEL: You attended Friends University, Kansas and played in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). In December 2015, you played in the FCS National Bowl where you played with and against Division I players. What was it like to play at a higher level of competition?
James: It was a great experience; I felt that I competed with them at a high level especially since I was able to earn the starting job at Left Guard. The game was much faster than playing in the NAIA but I feel that there are many small school guys that could compete at that level and do well, especially some of my teammates at Friends.
VAVEL: What did you learn from your experience at the FCS Bowl?
James: I learned that Professional football is a business first and if you are serious about playing in NFL or CFL you have to make it your lifestyle, it’s not college football anymore where you have to focus on school and football.
VAVEL: What has the support been like from head coach Monty Lewis and the entire Falcon’s coaching staff as you prepare to enter the NFL draft?
James: It’s been good, Coach Lewis is a great man and he helped get me into my pro day at Pittsburgh State University. He told me has a lot of faith in me that I can make at the next level and that whatever happens to represent the Friends football family.
VAVEL: How has your time playing for the Falcons prepared you for the NFL?
James: Friends changed my whole aspect on everything. Coming to Friends I had dreams of the NFL but didn’t know if it was realistic but that changed once I got there. Coach Lewis and Coach Billy Beard whipped me into shape from all the running we do and made me work ten times harder than I ever did before. If I hadn’t come to Friends I don’t think I would be in the position that I am now.
VAVEL: What is your fondest memory from Friends University?
James: It has to be the 2014 season as it was the only season I ever had in college that I competed for a championship and had a chance to go to the playoffs. We went 8-3 and finished in #19 in the NAIA and we also beat our rivals Tabor College who were ranked #3 in the NAIA at the time.
VAVEL: You have just completed your Pro Day workout at Pittsburgh State University. What was the toughest part of the experience for you?
James: The hardest part was actually waking up at four am to make a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Wichita to Pittsburg State and then having to get towed for two-and-a-half-hours' home as I had an issue with my tire as soon as I left the pro day.
VAVEL: There were representatives from seven NFL teams at your pro day. What did you learn about what an NFL team expects from you?
James: I learned that they expect they best from you and that you must treat this as a Job. They want somebody that is smart on and off the field, as we took the Wonderlic test and somebody that separates them self from everybody else on the field.
VAVEL: Have you received any feedback from NFL teams after your pro day?
James: Not yet but I was able to talk briefly with the Los Angeles Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars at the pro day. They wanted to know some things about me and they already knew who I was before I got there.
VAVEL: Evaluating you as a player, what are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
James: My Strengths are that I’m a good run blocker and I am able to get into a defender and drive them until the whistle or until their on the ground. I have a mean streak and I have a very powerful hand punch. My weaknesses are that I tend to lean too mean and don’t use my hips as my as I should. I have to work on getting more flexibility and having a great knee bend especially playing center in the NFL against guys like Dontari Poe and Danny Shelton.
VAVEL: Are you training at the moment? Is there a particular aspect of your game that you're trying to work on?
James: Yes, I’ve been training at Parisi Speed School here in Wichita, Kansas. The one main thing we’ve been focusing on is improving my Speed and lateral movement as the NFL is a speed game and I want to be able to play fast and at a high level without hesitation.
VAVEL: What’s the biggest adjustment to your game do you think you'll have to make at the pro level?
James: I think just being able to make all of the offensive line calls whilst playing center. The center position is the most important position on the field because everything starts with you. I just have to become excellent at everything a coach expects out of his center.
VAVEL: How do you plan on making yourself stand out to NFL teams? What separates you from other players at your position?
James: I think just my work ethic, my heart and my hunger for success. I think I work as hard as any offensive lineman in the country and my hunger for the next level is second to none as playing in the NFL could change my life and my family’s life and that’s one thing that has kept me going no matter what obstacle I’ve faced.
VAVEL: Have you been able to reach out to veterans, current or former players for advice?
James: Yes, I actually just reached out to Alex Boone of the San Francisco 49ers and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen of the New England Patriots who are both from my area and they both gave me some really good words of advice, that to never let anybody tell me that I can’t play in the NFL and that working hard is the only way you stay in the league. I also just got in contact with Lamar Mady who was just recently with the Oakland Raiders and we are going to stay in contact through this process. I also workout with offensive lineman Darren Marquez formerly of the Indianapolis Colts here in Wichita, and he’s been a mentor to me since I came to Friends.
VAVEL: Is there a former or current NFL player that you think you resemble and why?
James: I think I resemble Lamar Mady because we are both small school guys, are of similar size and are a similar type of players. I also think I resemble Chance Warmack because we are both smaller offensive linemen but are road graders and nasty which makes up for our size.
VAVEL: Are there certain NFL teams that you feel you are a good fit for?
James: I think I fit in well with any NFL team but I think I could fit in greatly with the Cleveland Browns as I know they have a great need for interior linemen and need help at center since Alex Mack joined the Atlanta Falcons. They are also my hometown team as I grew up 45 minutes from Cleveland. I think the Arizona Cardinals who have expressed interest, would be a great move as well.
VAVEL: As a small school player, what do you feel are the biggest obstacles you need to overcome?
James: The biggest thing is just proving that you are just as good as the guys from the big Division I schools. A lot of times guys like me are overlooked at because we didn’t play against the greatest competition but seeing guys like Cecil Shorts and Pierre Garcon from Mount Union University in Division III make a career in the NFL just proves it’s not where you start its where you finish.
VAVEL: Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life and career so far?
James: My Grandma Ethel Mickens who passed away when I was 13. None of this would be possible without her as she was the strongest person I’ve ever met and she was the one that always said I was going to play professional football one day.
VAVEL: What can an NFL team and its fans expect from James Tabor? What are you bringing to the table?
James: They can expect me to be the hardest working offensive lineman on the field and know that every Sunday I’m going to give everything that I have and leave it all on the field.
VAVEL: Finally, James is there a certain quarterback past or present that you would love to have the job of protecting?
James: There isn’t a certain QB per say but I would love to block for Robert Griffin III in Cleveland.
VAVEL: James once again I’d like to thank you for taking part in this interview today, it’s been great getting to know you.
James: Thank you it’s been a pleasure doing the interview.
VAVEL: Good luck with the NFL James and the next chapter in your life.
James has the prototypical size for an NFL guard or center. He has great potential as a run blocker and a nastiness that coaches love. James is versatile and plays the game as physically as he can.
He shows pop off the snap in the run game and when he pulls he takes good angles at linebackers helping him seal off the edges.
Small school players like Tabor show that there can still be great talent found in every league in the nation. He could be a real diamond in the rough.