MONROE, La. - James Truxillo is more than just a football player he is a leader in life. ULM's captain on the defense is the hardest hitter on team and has garnered respect of his peers on the field for his big play ability.
Seven months removed from an ACL injury Truxillo's character has allowed him to return to his leadership post. The junior's quiet demeanor continues to set the example for his teammates in the classroom. His success in the classroom and on the field has allowed him to be someone others can look up to.
As a sophomore starter at Jesuit High School in Jefferson, La., Truxillo - a 15-year old 150 pounder - took a beating from the upper classmen. He learned to return the favor by delivering game changing hits to defenders and people took notice tabbing him as the hardest hitter.
"It all began in high school," Truxillo said. "We had guys on offense that were 220 pound tight ends and running backs. I would hit them and sometimes they would run me over. I think that has definitely helped me from not shying away from contact and it has carried over to college."
"He is definitely the hardest hitter on this team and will just knock guys out," ULM head coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "He just loves to play the game. James has that intensity that is second to none and is like nobody I have ever been around."
After redshirting during the 2005 season, Truxillo continued to work in the weight room and in the classroom. He was awarded by the Sun Belt Conference a Commissioner's List certificate of achievement for maintaining above a 3.5 grade point average.
"The way I look at it is if you're not eligible and you're not taking care of your business in the classroom, you can't play," Truxillo said. "I have learned from other people's mistakes since I have been here. A lot of my friends are players who are better athletes than I am, but they didn't take care of business in the classroom and now they are not playing. I try to be as competitive in the classroom as on the football field."
Throughout his redshirt freshman season Truxillo worked his way into the starting lineup on four separate occasions. He continued to provide the big play ability of a starting safety into his sophomore season.
On Nov. 17, 2007 ULM made the 300 mile, four-plus hour journey to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Bryant-Denny Stadium. In what most thought to be just another 'money game' the Warhawks had thoughts of upset. In front of 92,138 screaming Crimson Tide fans the Warhawks did just that, shocked the college football landscape. Most won't remember, but Truxillo was a key cog in the victory.
With Alabama favored by 25 points the Warhawks forced a pair of turnovers and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than Alabama. Over the final nine drives the Crimson Tide didn't score a point.
Truxillo provided two outstanding plays to secure a ULM victory. On Alabama's second-to-last drive he stripped the ball from running back Jimmy Johns, thus, giving the football back to ULM. It wouldn't be but one-and-a-half minutes later that Truxillo gave the Warhawks a victory with a pass break up.
He finished his sophomore season third on the team in tackles (68), along with two interceptions and eight passes defended. It was then that Truxillo's leadership began to show on the football field.
"He takes everything with football and his life seriously," ULM athletic trainer Rhiannon Neff said. "Nothing to him is a joke and that reflects on the field and in the classroom. He doesn't take anything for granted and guys look up to him because he gives 100 percent all the time."
Truxillo has shown his skills in the classroom by maintaining his high grade point average as a criminal justice major. Last season he was named to ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District First Team for his efforts. Truxillo has also been on the Dean's List at ULM on five separate occasions.
"The guys respect him for his work ethic," Weatherbie said. "He is a young man that takes care of his business in the classroom and out in the public. He is the first one on the field and last one off. James does a great job leading."
Prior to the start of last season Truxillo's performance on and off the field was recognized by his teammates who named him a permanent defensive captain.
"I try to be myself," Truxillo said. "I am not a vocal leader and I try to lead by example. That means being early to meetings, busting your butt at practice and being a positive role model in the classroom and off the field."
Two games into Truxillo's junior campaign his playing career took a turn for the worst. During a road contest against Arkansas this past fall his knee was bent awkwardly while making a tackle. What he presumed was an ACL tear proved to be correct in the medical evaluation a few days later.
With the devastating news he turned his dedication to preparing his return for spring practice.
"An ACL injury is a long process," Neff said. "It is more like a marathon than a sprint. Each athlete is required to rehab twice a day and sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays. Every athlete handles it differently and I never had to push him to do anything. He gave me his best effort from day one and all the way through his release."
The Warhawks are a third of their way into spring practices and Truxillo is looking stronger and more prepared than he has been in past spring drills.
"James looks like he is in great shape and 100 percent," Weatherbie said. "He looks like he is picking up right where he left off last fall. James is a great leader and is one of those guys flying around to the football. He does a great job leading on this football team."
Success in life can be measured differently, but leaders are viewed as successful.
"Leaders are genuine," Truxillo said. "They are somebody who you can look at and say 'that guy is a winner.' Follow him and you'll be in good shape."
James Truxillo is a rare talent who has accomplished every task set in front of him whether it is in the classroom or on the football field. During Truxillo's three-and-a-half years on the campus of ULM he has exemplified the term student-athlete in every way possible.
The Jefferson, La., native has always been drawn to football. Truxillo's goal is to always increase his level of play win or lose.
"I absolutely think he will be successful because he takes things seriously," Neff said "He feels like if he is not putting in 100 percent than he is disappointing himself and everyone else. James has never taken a day off and has never slacked. You have to force him to slow down and that has obviously helped with his academics and his football career."