New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
CCSU’s James building NFL resume
NEW BRITAIN — Central Connecticut wide receiver Tyshaun James made football look easy in 2019, helping the Blue Devils to the Northeast Conference championship and a FCS playoff appearance. He had 48 receptions for 978 yards and nine touchdowns.
“The hardest thing,” he said, “was taking the pads off.”
That post-game maneuver was, indeed, uncomfortable — all that stretching and squirming. Because most of what James accomplished as a junior came despite a torn shoulder labrum sustained in the Blue Devils’ third of 13 games.
James underwent surgery in January 2020, after Central finished 11-2 in coach Ryan McCarthy’s first year, and the world changed due to the pandemic as he wrapped up rehabilitation a few months later. Now he’s back, 100 percent healthy, looking to lead Central to new heights — “Getting to a national championship,” James said — and hoping to use his senior season as a springboard to the NFL.
The Blue Devils, who did not play in 2020, open the season Friday at home against Southern Connecticut.
“He’s got the talent,” McCarthy said of James’ NFL potential.
He’s got the look, too. James is 6 feet, 3 inches tall. He weighs 217 pounds. He bench presses 400-plus pounds, squats 500. He runs the 40yard-dash in 4.5 seconds.
That’s not quite DK Metcalf.
But it’s representative of what you see on many NFL rosters — and very few FCS college rosters.
Nearly every NFL team has visited the New Britain campus to scout James either during spring practice or preseason camp, McCarthy said.
“He had a lot of (FBS) interest but nobody wanted to commit to him playing quarterback and nobody knew what he was,” McCarthy said of James’ recruitment in 2016. “He’s had a lot of NFL interest and now, I think they’re trying to gauge what he is.”
James was an all-state quarterback at Middletown High, spending his first two years as a backup to his cousin, Dario Highsmith, who went on to play at Wesleyan — as a receiver. James, also an all-state defensive back, was recruited by the staff of former Central coach Pete Rossomando (with McCarthy then the offensive coordinator) as a quarterback.
Coaches valued his overall athletic ability, though. James actually thought he’d become an outside linebacker or safety. But with a few receivers injured — and with NFLbound Jake Dolegala the unquestioned starter at quarterback — James was asked if he was interested in becoming a wideout.
He embraced the opportunity as a means to play sooner than later.
James appeared in eight games as a freshman. He had 20 catches, four of them touchdowns, in 11 games as a sophomore.
In 2019, James put together one of the best seasons by any FCS receiver. His torn labrum was probably due to wear and tear, but he didn’t feel it until hitting the turf hard in Week 3
against Valparaiso, a game in which he had four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.
“After the game, I was like, ‘What do you do with that?’ ” James said. “They said surgery. I said, ‘I’m not going to get surgery.’ ”
James went on to be named an All-NEC first-team player. He rushed for five touchdowns, giving him 14 total, which ranked 23rd in the nation. He was second in receiving yards, second in receiving touchdowns and 12th in yards per reception (20.38).
Then he did finally have surgery and — this is significant — he stayed put, home in Connecticut, at CCSU.
“He was an in-state kid who was, from a physical standpoint, above our level, if you will,” McCarthy said.
“We saw him as an FBS talent. Realistically, if we went in the (transfer) portal, he could have gone anywhere. If they saw him in the portal and watched his game film, he could have gone to a Florida State or somewhere in the SEC. Tyshaun looks like those guys at Alabama. I don’t know where he’d be on the depth chart but ...”
But he’d be on a roster.
“He was open to anything,” McCarthy said. “But I think what happened is the NFL scouts came in and said, ‘I know the fad is to go where you think the grass is greener, but it’s in your best interest to stay where you’re the guy.’ You go to Florida
State as the fourth or fifth guy and have 10 or 15 catches, you’re not going to be as enamored.”
The Blue Devils return most key players from the 2019 championship team.
Senior linebacker Trevante Jones, of Providence, was a First-Team AllNEC linebacker in 2019. Senior cornerback Dexter Lawson, of Bloomfield, was All-NEC second team that season. Linebacker J’von Brown, of Norwich, was a 2018 second-team
FCS All-American as a sophomore but limited to four games with a shoulder injury in 2019. Aaron Dawson, a First-Team All-NEC player in 2018, returns as the top running back after missing most of 2019 with a broken foot.
Junior Romelo Williams, of Mirimar,
Fla., is the starting quarterback, replacing Aaron Winchester, who in 2019 — with James as his top target — was the NEC Offensive Player of the Year. Winchester is now the Blue Devils’ tight ends coach.
Junior Jiovany Pierre, of Somerville, Mass., Junior Kyren Petteway, of Waterbury and Kingswood-Oxford, and Everett Wormley, a senior transfer from Rutgers, are also key receivers.
“Talent-wise, we have all the pieces,” McCarthy said. “Now I want us to be the team we want to be. We haven’t played in almost two years. What’s it going to be like when things are not going our way? I want to see what kind of integrity we have, what kind of resilience.”
James brings swagger. He has a name, image and likeness deal with Dillgence Training in East Hartford. He has a brand manager. His parents, Tyrone James and Nadine Turner, help on that front, too.
An economics major, James is also organizing a coat drive in Middletown during the Blue Devils’ bye week in October — an initiative inspired by his volunteer work at a soup kitchen while in high school.
He has 11 regular season games remaining. Scouts will keep visiting. His senior season could get him an NFL contract.
Dolegala is currently with the Green Bay Packers. He spent last season with the Patriots’ practice squad, a year after becoming the first CCSU player to make a 53-man NFL roster (with the Bengals) since lineman Rich Ranglin with the Chiefs in 2012.
James called attending Central “the best decision I ever made.” He wants to leave a winner.
“This is probably the most talented team we’ve had, but talent doesn’t really win you championships,”
James said. “It’s about the right mindset and having people lead by example. I still have a lot more I want to accomplish. We know we’re capable of winning a conference, so now it’s about a national championship.”