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Notre Dame's Chris James runs for a touchdown against Grayslake North. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media
Maybe the most surprised person at Grayslake North when time was winding down last Friday was Chris James.
The Notre Dame junior running back wandered over to the Dons' statistician. "I was [asking], 'Oh my God, have I broken 20 carries yet? Am I over 100 yards?'"
Yes and yes.
James ran 47 times for 323 yards and seven touchdowns – one off the IHSA single-game playoff record – as the Dons cruised to a 46-27 victory in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
It capped a big few days for James, who was named the co-Offensive MVP of the East Suburban Catholic Conference (along with Marist receiver Nic Weishar) and is the Sun-Times Athlete of the Week.
As big as his numbers were, James was happier about the final score. The Dons hadn't won a state playoff game since 1997 and were knocked out in the first round every year since 2006.
Ending that drought was a major point of emphasis for James and his teammates. "Going into the offseason, we were [saying],
'We're going to get it this year,'" he said.
James has been putting up big numbers all season, getting 268 yards and four touchdowns vs. St. Viator as well as 243 yards and three touchdowns against Marian Catholic.
Credit the experience he gained on the varsity as a sophomore.
"I got some carries [along with current Northern Illinois freshman] Conner Gavin," James said. "He taught me a few things."
So did James' trainer, Jack Cascio, who set up a schedule of weightlifting and plyometrics that have James (5-9, 198) bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago. It's been enough to get him on the radar of such college programs as Arkansas, Auburn, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Another major influence on James is his grandmother, who's been raising him "since I was 4, going on 5," he said. "She's been my backbone pretty much."
It also was his grandmother's idea that he attend Notre Dame, which has grown on him.
"I wasn't too happy about Notre Dame at first," he said, especially the fact that it's an all-boys school. "Freshman year, it was kind of hard for me to transition. I got in a little trouble, nothing big, talking in class."
But all that's in the past now. "Going to Notre Dame is something I would never regret," he said.
The feeling is mutual for Dons coach Mike Hennessey.
"He's one of the hardest workers on the team without a doubt," Hennessey said. "He's developed a great relationship with his offensive line. He's a kid who's very popular in school. What he's done this year is mature a lot as a student and an athlete."