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“I think he was a little disappointed in his playing time earlier in the year but as he’s practiced better and been more productive (there) he’s been more productive,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “I think he’s grown up over the past two years and he’s playing pretty well on the field also.”

James had chances to play in two years under Leach, catching 32 passes for 313 yards. Now he’s got a different perspective.

“I think now I’ve learned to take advantage of my opportunities better. As a player I’ve matured, my practice habits have matured,” he said. “Over the last two years I think I’ve grasped the importance of being consistent every day and I think that’s helped me out.”

His father agreed.

“That’s not uncommon especially for seniors and for players who have a passion for their team to win and doing the best they can,” Craig James said. “What you see is the hard work he’s put in. He’s always worked hard. It’s nature. It just all comes together. You get stronger. You get faster.”

The support from teammates has been there since a few days before the Alamo Bowl two years ago when the team learned Leach had been fired.

Seth Doege, the Red Raiders’ quarterback and one of Adam James‘ closest friends, said the tight end has been vocal all year, getting the team motivated with halftime speeches.

“He works hard,” Doege said. “He’s been a big vocal leader for this team. He’s really changed his ways and turned things around.”

Pressed to explain what he meant, Doege wouldn’t go where James‘ first quarterback, Graham Harrell, went two years ago. Harrell and Dana Holgorsen, formerly the Red Raiders receivers coach and now head coach at West Virginia, issued statements that portrayed James in an unflattering light shortly after Leach’s firing. They said James was spoiled, didn’t work hard and felt he was entitled to a position.

“I would say everybody has their opinion, and if that’s their opinion of me, that’s unfortunate,” James said. “But I think if you were to go ask any of my teammates now, any of my coaches now, it would be a completely different response.”

Craig James said what happened two years ago wasn’t easy to watch.

“It’s one of those situations that you can’t understand how painful it was for a parent watching a kid go through it. To me, what speaks volumes of who Adam is and what happened is the level of respect his teammates have for him,” he said. “It took a lot of courage and character two years to stand up for himself and his teammates.”

The younger James said he has only recently wondered how the crowd will respond when he and his family are introduced Saturday on Senior Day before the Red Raiders wrap up their home schedule with a game against No. 2 Oklahoma State. His father won’t be there; he will be working in the broadcast booth when No. 22 Michigan plays at Illinois.

Some fans will acknowledge his contributions, James said, while others will use the occasion to voice their displeasure at his legacy that will forever be tied to Leach’s firing.

“They’ll be people cheering and there’ll be people booing,” he said. “And the people cheering, that’s great, and the people booing, like I said, I wish they take the opportunity to get to know me.”