Florida Native Derwin James Excited to Play First Game in Home State Since College

Jason B. Hirschhorn

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Growing up in Haines City, Florida, Derwin James wanting little more than to play football for the nearby Florida State Seminoles. When the program offered him as a ninth-grader, James didn't have to think twice. Not only did he commit to playing football at Florida State, but he also had the school's logo tattooed on his left shoulder.

James went on to star for the Seminoles, earning a starting role during his true freshman season and eventually becoming a two-time first-team All-ACC selection as well as an All-American. That play turned James into one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft, where the Los Angeles Chargers selected him in the first round.

As in college, James needed little time before taking center stage. He helped the Chargers to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth as a rookie, putting together one of the finest seasons of any defensive player in the league. James efforts earned him recognition as a first-team All-Pro and established him as a core piece of Los Angeles' core moving forward. By any metric, he has become a success story.

On Sunday, James will play his first football game in his home state since his days with the Seminoles, a return of sorts for a local kid made good.

"I'll probably have about 20-some people, 30 people (at the game)," James says. "It's ticket requests from everybody, man. Especially for a homecoming."

When the NFL released the regular-season schedule back in April, James circled the Dec. 8 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only would the game provide an opportunity to see family in Florida, but he also hoped to face off against his former Florida State teammate and friend, cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

"I was kind of excited," James says. "I was like, man, I get to go to Florida and see Jalen. But now he's out here."

Ramsey began his NFL career with the Jaguars, helping the team reach the AFC title game in just his second season. However, his boisterous personality wore on management over time. With his rookie contract nearing the end and the organization uncertain about paying him top-of-the-market money on an extension, Jacksonville traded their All-Pro corner to the Los Angeles Rams earlier this season. Though the move meant that Ramsey and James could spend time together in California, they would not play against one another in 2019 as hoped.

Even so, James has plenty to look forward to this Sunday.

"I'm still excited because my family can come watch me play," James says. "It's going to be fun."

Though the Chargers have little hope of reaching the postseason this year, they still have a chance to finish the season with a non-losing record. To do that, James and his teammates will have to find a way to slow down Gardner Minshew, the mustachioed rookie sensation who will make his ninth start this weekend.

"He's' great when the pocket's bad and at extending plays," James says of Minshew. "He's really good at finding people. So, I feel like we've got to plaster (receivers) a lot as well."

The Chargers have not fared well against rookie signal-callers this season. In Week 6, they allowed 24 points to an offense led by Devlin Hodges, an undrafted first-year quarterback out of Samford making his first NFL start. A similar outcome unfolded last Sunday when they struggled to contain Denver Broncos rookie Drew Lock, who tossed two touchdowns en route to a 23-20 victory over Los Angeles.

James hopes to help the Chargers avoid a third defeat to a rookie quarterback and put on a good show for his friends and family in attendance.

"Man, in this game, you got to come into the game and just come out with a win," James says. "Look how many young quarterbacks are playing good around the league. In this business, I feel like you just got to prepare each week as if he's a guy that can come out and beat you. Because, if we don't do what we're supposed to do, he can [take advantage]."

-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH