Pictured: Tyshaun James, who rates among the top receivers in all of FCS, will graduate from Central in December with degrees in economics and management.

By Paul Augeri

(Editor’s Note: Tyshaun James’ journey this fall will be documented through a series of stories. This installment precedes the Aug. 4 start to CCSU football practice.)

MIDDLETOWN – When he was a kid, Tyshaun James wanted to be a veterinarian. He had an affinity for animals and watched hours and hours of Animal Planet. He also had a creative side and was deep into drawing.

Along the way, he grew into a dynamic football player and All-State quarterback at Middletown High. His career aspirations have changed over time. Playing football on Sundays is James’ ultimate goal.

But to think and talk about it now? That’s for another time.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver is geared up for Fridays and Saturdays this fall at Central Connecticut. The coming season has special significance not just for this Middletown favorite son, but for all state college players. Their seasons a year ago were canceled because of the pandemic.

When the Blue Devils released their 2021 slate of games back in March, it was an occasion for a football-starved fan base and for James, too.

“Finally seeing a schedule got me very excited about getting back to camp,” he said. “Spring ball was the only thing we had that was close to a game, and getting back to workouts (this summer) was good, too.”

A redshirt senior, James is Central’s top returning offensive playmaker and rates among the best at the position in the Football Championship Subdivision — with draft potential. The Middletown public school system hasn’t seen the likes of James’ talent in at least 50 years.

Practice at Central starts on Aug. 4. James’ 2021-22 odyssey launches Sept. 3 with a home game against Southern Connecticut.

Along the way is a road game against the Miami Hurricanes (60 family members and friends booked the trip a month ago); the Devils’ defense of their 2019 Northeast Conference championship; a December graduation with degrees in economics and management; and at the end, hopes of landing on someone’s draft board.

The Miami game in particular is hard to not think about.

“I’m trying not to look too far out to the Miami game” James said. “SCSU, you don’t sleep on those players, they can come out and beat you. But we’re definitely ready for the season. And not having football since 2019, I feel like I have a lot left in the tank, especially in the conference.”

When he got to Central, the coaching staff had other plans for James, who came in as a QB. Ryan McCarthy, the Devils’ offensive coordinator at the time and now their head coach, took him aside at a team meeting.

“He asked what I thought about playing receiver and I said, ‘Whatever gets me on the field fastest,’” said James, who did a little of everything on the field as a freshman – running the ball, playing some receiver and returning kicks.

He played in all 11 games his sophomore year, and even though he led the team with four receiving touchdowns, he thought his production was disappointing. He needed to prove that his playmaking skills were capable of returning big numbers.

He had a talk with his father.

“I told my dad I can’t go like that, that I need to do more,” James said. “After that year I trained way harder. I took football seriously before then, but I was way more serious about it now and I took things personal, with practice and lifting. I wanted to be the best on the team and the best in the conference.”

With his supreme, almost maniacal work ethic in the weight room, James became one of the strongest players on the team. He bench-pressed 405 pounds this spring, about a year after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum.

His 2019 season was a next-level breakout – a conference-best 14 total touchdowns (23rd in all of FCS), 978 yards receiving (four games of 95 or more) and a 20.38 average in yards per catch. James was an All-Northeast Conference selection and twice was named NEC offensive player of the week. Central finished with a program-best record of 11-2 and its sixth conference championship.

On Twitter, his handle is “Move The Chains,” a moniker an uncle came up with that is symbolic of how James approaches his final season at Central – embrace each day, move forward and enjoy the ride.

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