MOBILE — A pair of SEC cornerbacks used the lessons they learned at Spanish Fort High School to reach the Senior Bowl, college football’s longest continually running all-star game.
MOBILE — A pair of SEC cornerbacks used the lessons they learned at Spanish Fort High School to reach the Senior Bowl, college football’s longest continually running all-star game. Now, Toro alumni DJ James and Kris Abrams-Draine are using this week to prepare for the 2024 NFL Draft.
James played three years at Oregon before two at Auburn and Abrams-Draine played all four seasons at Missouri and now they’ve come home to reunite on the American Team leading up to Saturday’s all-star game. Both mentioned how awesome it was to once again share the field with their former Spanish Fort teammate.
“It’s surreal being able to come back and play together again, we grew up together so that’s great,” James said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s been fun, really fun being back home and competing in front of my family and competing with other great players.”
“It’s been a fun week, came back home and I’m glad to be here,” Abrams-Draine said. “It’s been good, we’ve been talking about it since high school so we’re finally on the same team together again and it’s amazing.”
Early on, they knew they’d be here
As marquee players during their time with the Toros, both did hope they’d end up on the field of the Senior Bowl even though Abrams-Draine changed positions from wide receiver to defensive back after his freshman season.
“I ain’t going to lie, I did (see myself here as a freshman),” Abrams-Draine said. “I knew whatever I played, I knew I was going to be good at.”
“I knew we’d both be here, just not at the same time since I was a year older,” James said. “But I knew we’d probably both be here, I felt it.”
Not the only draft-bound Toros
And they aren’t the only Spanish Fort alumni being inspected by NFL executives as Jeremiah Hixon, a receiver who played at Alabama State and New Mexico, also declared to ascend to the next level. The Senior Bowl athletes both spoke about the statement being made by three Toros heading to the draft.
“That we produce a lot of good players,” Abrams-Draine said. “It means a lot, (Hixon is) underrated to me but I think somebody’s going to give him a shot.”
“That Spanish Fort produces athletes. They produce great athletes, it’s a great school, it was a great coaching staff we had there and it’s just overall a great school,” James said. “Just knowing I played with (Hixon) and competed against him in high school on the offensive side, it’s great to see everybody going onto the next level.”
A familiar coach on Wednesday’s sidelines
Their high school head coach, Ben Blackmon, relished the opportunity to see former players on the precipice of an NFL Draft opportunity and got to see them play live again during Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s humbling, I’m excited for these young men,” Blackmon said. “They put in a lot of hard work to get to this point in their life and their career. Just to have a little bit of small influence with them and be there to support them is huge.”
While Blackmon currently serves as head football coach the Enterprise Wildcats, he said the Toros’ tradition is what sets the Spanish Fort program apart.
“It’s just the culture that was built there and they bought into as players and have continued that in their college careers of hard work and dedication and trying to grind everything out and be the best player you can be and set the standard,” Blackmon said.
That dedication has now afforded James and Abrams-Draine the opportunity to not only be selected in the NFL Draft but also get the chance to work with NFL coaches and representatives hands-on.
“A little shocked, it’s all hitting me a bit, it’s a big process but I’m taking it all in one day at a time,” James said. “Every minute I’m just taking it all in, soaking it all up, soaking up all the knowledge from these coaches.”
“New technique, new plays and just how to be a pro,” Abrams-Draine said of what he’s learned so far. “Just keep getting better and hopefully I’ll be in the NFL next year.”
A little piece of home across the Bay
Seeing their coach’s familiar face was the cherry on top of Wednesday’s cake.
“I hadn’t seen him since high school so it felt good to see him again,” Abrams-Draine said.
“It was amazing knowing my high school coach came, drove two and a half hours on the road, to come see his guys compete and I tried to put on a show for him today,” James said. “I had seen him when I came back from Oregon on break but it had been a while.”
Blackmon appreciated the fact they got to share the same sidelines and once again be on the same team.
“It’s pretty neat to watch them, it’ll be fun to watch them Saturday. They’ll be on the field together at the same time in certain situations, I’m sure,” Blackmon said. “But first and foremost, these are two great men that have come out of Spanish Fort High School and they continue to do great things and I’m just proud of them.”