On most days, you’ll barely get a peep out of Teague James. Except for his explosion of dreadlocks, he is restrained and blends into the background.
His personality matches the view you can get from near his front yard off Canyon Road: chilled, snow-capped Mount Rainier.
Get him in a scrap, whether it’s a 4A South Puget Sound League South Division football game or a tussle with his older brother, Cameron, and a different person emerges.
A fiery one.
“Talking doesn’t fit him,” Graham-Kapowsin football coach Eric Kurle said. “He is who he is.”
Running backs reigned supreme in the South Sound in 2013. Of the seven area leagues who vote for most valuable players – the 4A Narrows, 4A SPSL, 3A Narrows, 2A SPSL and 2A Evergreen Conference – all named tailbacks as players of the year.
James wasn’t even voted the SPSL South Player of the Year – that went to Federal Way’s dynamic junior Chico McClatcher. But, for his reliability and consistent production in leading the Eagles to the division crown, James is The News Tribune’s 2013 All-Area Player of the Year.
“No. 1, he fits Eric’s system so well being strong and durable. He is a one-cut, downhill-running guy,” Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers said. “That is what Eric wants. I don’t think Chico could touch the football as many times as Teague did.”
In terms of volume, James was the league’s ultimate workhorse for two seasons as its rushing champion. In 2012, he rushed for 1,504 yards and a league-high 26 touchdowns during the nine-game regular season and one playoff game.
This season, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder backed that up with a 1,611-yard, 26-touchdown season. Add in two playoff games, James finished with 2,055 yards and 29 scores.
“I feel like I was tougher this year than I was last year,” James said. “I didn’t reach my goal of 2,000 yards (in the regular season), but I got pretty close, so I was satisfied. And I am satisfied with going undefeated in league, first time in school history.”
As soon as he finished those thoughts, he went silent. He stared ahead, waiting for the next question to quietly answer.
“I’ve had a couple of coaches come up to me this year and say they were happy he said five words to them,” said Allen James, Teague’s father. “He just takes care of business. But when he has something to say, it might be time to listen.”
That runs in the family. Allen is no chatterbox, either. The son of an Army solider, he played football at Washington High School before signing with the University of Washington and playing four seasons at strong safety (1984-87).
“Teague is as mellow as anything,” Allen said. “Only a few people have seen the switch go on, and he can get active pretty quickly.”
Allen recalls an incident a few months back. He and his wife were sitting in the living room when Graham-Kapowsin receiver Dylan Campbell ran in from outside, yelling that Teague and Cameron were in a pretty heated scrap.
“My oldest boys would push Teague to the limit ... and I told him to leave the kid alone,” Allen said. “When I got over there, Cam had a bunch of knocks on his head.”
James had to be tough to endure how his varsity career at Graham-Kapowsin began. In the 2011 season-opening game against Federal Way at Art Crate Field, he was blocking during the opening kickoff when a teammate pushed a tackler into the back of his leg.
“I felt a pop,” Teague said. “I was going to get up, but the referee told me to stay down. And teammates carried me off the field.”
He had broken his left leg, and missed the entire season.
After the injury, he fulfilled all the rehabilitation workouts, and even felt strong enough to run track and field the next spring.
But once he returned to football for the 2012 season, recurring thoughts began filling his head.
“I was always afraid I was going to hurt it again, especially when I saw guys go for my leg,” Teague said.
Added Allen: “That first game of his junior year, he was a little tentative. I just told him to go out there and do his best ... and that leg that was broken was probably now stronger than the other leg. He responded.”
As soon as James started trusting himself again, the natural cutback moves returned. The longer the season wore on, the stronger he became – and Kurle kept feeding him the football.
“He is so mentally tough. It is a mental thing getting pounded on over and over, but he competes right to the end – and has kept doing in the last two years,” Kurle said.
Finding the end zone is its own fight, Teague points out. And he aims to finish it whenever he can. He scored 55 touchdowns the past two seasons, well ahead of any running back in the area.
“I’m always determined to score,” he said. “It’s in me.”