?Blessed career? / Tabor?s Monroe takes his success in stride

James Monroe Jr. says his assault on the career rushing record at Tabor College came as a surprise during his senior season. ?I definitely give all the glory to God because like I said, I didn?t expect it. It just kind of happened.??Blessed career.?

Those are the words Tabor College senior James Monroe Jr. uses to describe his record-setting four years as a member of the Bluejay football team.

The 5-foot, 11-inch running back from Browns Mills, N.J., accumulated 3,927 rushing yards over four years to become Tabor?s all-time rushing leader, surpassing the previous record set by NFL All-Pro Rolland ?Bay? Lawrence in 1972 of 3,008 yards.

Monroe?s record-breaking day happened Oct. 19 at Friends University in Tabor?s seventh game of the season. Coming into the game a mere 5 yards short, Monroe picked up 194 yards on 34 carries.

Monroe said he was not aware of how close he was to breaking the record until it was brought to his attention the week before when Tabor played Kansas Wesleyan.

?I had no idea because I wasn?t keeping track of it,? he said. ?That?s when I was kind of shocked.?

For Tabor?s Nov. 9 game against Bethel, Lawrence?who graduated from Tabor in 1973 and was a defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons from 1973 to 1981?traveled to Hillsboro to congratulate Monroe for the achieve?ment.

Monroe said he never dreamed he would set a new career rushing record at Tabor.

?I didn?t think I actually would, to be honest, because of how the first two years went,? he said. ?(I) didn?t get the ball too much, but I didn?t mind it. I just wanted to win. (Setting the record) was kind of surprising.?

The early years

Monroe started playing football when he was about 10 years old, he said. At first, it was not by choice.

?My mom actually made me play,? he said. ?I didn?t want to. I just wanted to play outside with my friends and things like that, but she said I had to play.?

It took time, but eventually Monroe came to enjoy the sport.

?After that first year, I didn?t want to play it again, but she made me play again, and then I started liking it on my own,? he said. ?It kind of grew on me.?

Monroe continued playing football through high school at Pemberton Town?ship.

He was the third-string running back on his freshman team but did start a few games that year. His sophomore year, Monroe progressed from second-string running back on the junior varsity team to starter.

He actually started the final four games of his sophomore season on the varsity squad, and was a varsity starter the remainder of his high school career.

Tabor career

Monroe said he had never heard of Tabor College or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics before Tabor showed an interest in recruiting him.

?They called my coach, and I guess they saw my stuff on YouTube somehow or something like that,? he said. ?But before that, I never even heard of NAIA.?

Monroe came to Hillsboro in fall 2010?even though Tabor was not his first choice, he said. He joined a Bluejay football team relying heavily on the passing game.

?My freshman year, they ended up starting me every game,? Monroe said. ?That was pretty shocking.?

Splitting the rotation with a senior running back, Monroe accumulated 487 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries that year.

Monroe again started his sophomore year, but missed two games as a result of an ankle injury. Still, he carried the ball 109 times for 593 yards and five touchdowns.

That year Monroe achieved his longest run: a 98-yard touchdown during Tabor?s 20-7 win over Bethel.

?It was basically straight up the gut,? he said. ?It was just kind of split the safeties. The way they played, they overplayed us slightly, so the idea was just to split them and then just had to beat one guy, and he just missed me.

?That was a pretty cool highlight I can remember. That?ll stick with me.?

Monroe?s production increased to 1,074 yards and 11 touchdowns on 213 carries his junior season when the Bluejays changed their offensive scheme.

?The first two years were mostly a passing team, and toward the end of the sophomore year, we kind of switched to the running attack,? Monroe said. ?After that, my carries went up each year, so that?s kind of where the success came. It wasn?t necessarily anything else.

?Obviously, God allowed it because I could?ve got hurt (with) a lot of carries like that.?

Monroe?s numbers continued to climb his senior season. He carried the ball 367 times for 1,773 yards to rank third in NAIA Division I. He ranked seventh in rushing yards per game at 136.4.

After a 23-20 win over eighth-ranked Ottawa, Tabor advanced to the NAIA Football Championship Series for the first time since 2005. Tabor enjoyed an opening round victory over No. 8 Benedictine, but the Blue?jays? playoff run ended with a quarterfinal loss to No. 2 Grand View (Iowa).

Tabor ended the season with a 10-3 record.

A highlight of Monroe?s career was the win over Ottawa after enduring three straight losses to the Braves.

?It felt good to finally beat them after four years,? he said.

The Ottawa game also was Monroe?s biggest yardage game of the season with 253 on 51 carries.

?My legs were tired that game, I?m not going to lie,? he said. ?I?ll be honest. That was the most tired I ever felt in any game.?

Tight with teammates

One thing Monroe enjoys about football is the fellowship with teammates.

?Off the field, on the field, we joke around, we have fun,? he said. ?You wake up at 6 a.m., you run with them, you lift with them. They?re right along with you. It?s just fun to go through that process and then for it to pay off some way. I really enjoy that, just the fellowship with my teammates.?

Monroe said he does not regret his decision to come to Tabor, for it had spiritual implications as well.

?It definitely worked out; I couldn?t have asked for anything else,? he said. ?I obviously came out for a reason because my freshman year I ended up getting saved.

?I grew up in the church, but I just wasn?t living that lifestyle until the second semester of my freshman year. I got saved out here, and then that?s when I really started to grow. I really started to enjoy it here, and I just embraced it for what it was.?

Looking to the future

Before graduating from Tabor, Monroe will have a chance to play in one more football game.

He and fellow teammate Nik France have been selected to compete in the third annual D2 vs. NAIA Senior Bowl Saturday, Dec. 21 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The bowl will feature senior athletes with no college eligibility remaining. Pro scouts will be present.

?Just go out there and have fun,? Monroe said about his approach to the game. ?Whatever happens, happens. It should be fun.?

Monroe anticipates graduating from Tabor this spring with a degree in social work and a minor in psychology. He said he would like to continue playing football after college.

?If I definitely had a shot, then I?ll take it, and if that works out, I?ll run with that. But you know, if I got a shot and it didn?t work out, or if I didn?t get a shot, I wouldn?t be hurt or anything because I had a blessed career,? he said. ?It?s been fun, but if it?s time to move on, I?ll move on.?

If football doesn?t work out, Monroe said he would like to pursue a master?s degree in social work.

Upon leaving Tabor, Monroe said he will miss the seniors he has competed with the duration of his career.

?We lost together, we won together,? he said. ?We cried together, we laughed together. Those are memories I?ll always have in the back of my mind, and I?ll never forget those guys.?

For Monroe, holding the career rushing record at Tabor is a blessing.

?I definitely give all the glory to God because like I said, I didn?t expect it. It just kind of happened,? he said.

?I definitely did work hard and everything like that. That?s something I?ve always prided myself on is working hard and not slacking off and things like that, but obviously, the glory goes to God.?

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