After living in his 1986 Chevrolet C10 truck so he could stay in school at Texas Southern University, Mark James finally has a new place—in a very familiar locale—to call home.
James, a former Fort Worth Dunbar High School standout, is one of the newest members of the Texas Wesleyan football program, which will begin play in 2017, in Cowtown, after a 75-year hiatus.
“I’m able to make history in my city,” James said. “There’s nothing like that Friday night feeling. This was a blessing.”
James, a 5-11, 195-pound freshman linebacker, was surprised to learn his room and board were no longer covered at TSU.
“I found out on short notice, so I had to go day by day,” James said. “I went down there expecting it was going to be a nice walk through financial aid, but I ran into that brick wall and found out that it wasn’t covering everything. It was only giving me a Pell Grant, which only covered my tuition.”
Fortunately, James attended a spring combine at Texas Wesleyan and caught the eye of Rams Head Coach Joe Prud’homme, who was elated to be able to help provide him with a place to play football and a dorm room with an actual bed to rest his head.
“It meant everything,” Prud’homme said. “It’s a totally different world I’m living in than I was living in before, but it’s just very satisfying to know, on a really deep level, you’re able to help like that. You get an opportunity to give him a chance to have a good start, finish out and change his life. To me, that’s important.”
James first learned Texas Wesleyan was relaunching the football program on Instagram, which ultimately led to him attending the combine.
“I saw it on somebody’s page, and they told me that it was real,” James said. “I signed up for the combine and met coach there. I didn’t know if it was real at first.”
Prud’homme is thrilled to not only start the program back up, but also for his first college head coaching job after 27 years of coaching high school football in Texas. He was at nearby Fort Worth Nolan Catholic for all but three of those seasons, leading the Vikings to seven state championships.
“There’s a lot of buzz, man,” Prud’homme said. “There’s a lot of excitement. On campus, there’s an energy and an electricity in the air. I just can’t wait until we get into our pads and our uniforms and get with it—that’s what everybody’s waiting on. We don’t just want to survive and make it; we want to do something really special for the community.
“To be in a program and help build and start a program—that’s pretty special. To make history is a special deal. There’s no way to understand it unless you’re on the inside looking out. If you’re on the outside looking in, you don’t really get the full grasp of it. It’s cool.”
James, who grew up playing football in the streets of Fort Worth, said he especially loves the unity and teamwork aspects of the game.
“You played all sports and found out around middle school which one you loved the most,” James said. “Football and baseball were my sports, but I ended up going football all the way … I’m a team player.”
In addition to the tenacity James has shown, Prud’homme digs his new linebacker’s general attitude.
“Mark’s always been very thankful for whatever he can get,” Prud’homme said. “He’s always been optimistic and is always smiling anyway. He’s very pleased and appreciative of what he’s got. People have reached out to him, and he’s very gracious about it. He’s going to go on and do some great things with this opportunity. That made it real easy to want to help him.”
James plans to make the most of his new opportunity—especially after going through so much to get where he is today.
“When I played football in high school, my coach would always tell us, ‘You’ve just got to survive through adversity,’” James said. “That’s what I just stuck by.”