“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. … The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused.” — Jack London, “The Call of the Wild”

Darius James has faced life’s repeated challenges and laughed in their presence — all with a big, child-like smile streaked across his face.

The fun-loving Harker Heights senior offensive lineman has dealt with more than his fair share of setbacks. He was abandoned by his birth mother at the age of 5, witnessed the death of his grandmother, Denise Jackson — really the only “mom” he claims to this day — at 16, and an injury derailed a promising senior season.

Still, James never lost his drive to be great.

In fact, all of those integral points in his life have only served to inspire the 6-foot-5, 325-pound center to keep pushing forward.

This week in Orlando, Fla., James matched wits and muscle against many of the nation’s premier college football prospects at the Under Armour All-American Game practices.

Later today, the highly touted Texas commit is showcasing his talents to the world in the sixth annual Under Armour All-American Game at 4 p.m. at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

But this week, he’s spent the new year working through several one-on-one drills against Grayson (Ga.) defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, a five-star defensive end widely considered the nation’s top player.

Nkemdiche, before ever playing a down of college football, is already drawing comparisons to freak defender Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, whose devastating hits have become YouTube sensations within seconds.

Of course, James has received a fair share of acclaim — the agile big man is ranked as the No. 17 overall prospect according to ESPN.com and the nation’s top-rated interior lineman prospect.

Thus, when the two premier talents lined up against one another in practice, it caused quite a stir. James didn’t disappoint, holding his own against the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Nkemdiche, even earning a much ballyhooed pancake of the nation’s No. 1 player.

James got beaten a few times, especially when Nkemdiche combined his relentless speed off the ball with a couple of sensational swim moves — one of which drew the adulation of former Penn State All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington.

Although working from the center position for the White team likely means the nation will see James squaring off against Vienna (Ga.) defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who is ranked No. 7 overall by ESPN.com — don’t expect to see James look disappointed. No matter the potential roadblock, James won’t shy away.

Instead, the kid at heart will flash his big smile, let out a goofy laugh and continue to push forward.

Contact Alex Byington at alexb@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7566

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