Back in 1986, I bought a house up in the Rocky Mountains and, with the help of some friends, spent a weekend moving my things in. Like a lot of folks, the first thing I hooked up was the stereo. Moving’s always easier with some music to move you. I got up the next morning and rubbed some liniment on the aches. I had breakfast and went to my clinic. Just a normal day.
I got an odd phone call in the afternoon and decided to drive home. I did - and there was no house there. The stereo was off, but had developed a short. It turned itself on and overheated. That started a smoldering fire.
They’d saved the roof and outside walls. Everything else was gone, except for the few things in my car. It was very much as I'd imagine being hit in the stomach by Derek Wolfe would feel. You stand there like an idiot, unable to think or act. You suddenly notice that tears are running down your face. The shock is overwhelming.
But I wasn’t 16 years old. And, my mother didn’t die in that fire. James Casey’s did, when his home burned down.
Some people say they come from nothing. I literally came from nothing. I had nothing. It was obviously a tough time.
Imagine being 16, coming home from school, and finding your house burned down and your mother dead. A lot of people would crumble under that stress. He’d been living in trailers with his parents all his life. Suddenly, he had nothing but his clothes and his backpack.
One cannot really imagine what he must have gone through. He lived in Azle, Texas, and the people there donated food and clothes. They gave him money to live on and more for his education. He was given places in homes to live in. He lived with his trainer. He lived with the family of his future wife, Kylie. Her family started a town trust fund for him. Kylie and James have two sons together. They celebrated their eigth anniversary in December. Casey paid the town’s trust back by graduating high school with a 99.38 grade point average. I expect that he’ll pay them back in other ways as well.
Some towns haven’t gotten the message that we only take care of ourselves. Ask Jermaine Gresham about Ardmore.
Casey’s wasn’t the usual path to the NFL. He’s already 30. One reason is that he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, in whose organization he played from 2003-2006. He spent a short time with the Fort Worth Cats. After that, the lure of football drew him to college and then the NFL.
He began at Rice University, the only school to offer him a scholarship. You’d expect a man who can play both professional baseball and football to be highly athletic. If so, you won’t be disappointed by Casey. As an example, he played seven positions in a single game against Southern University. He simultaneously carried 18 hours per semester of class work. James isn’t shy about working hard.
He ran the ball, for 144 yards on 45 carries as a freshman. He also caught 46 receptions for 585 yards. He added five touchdowns as a running back that year. He even threw the ball, with two completions and an interception among three attempts.
As a sophomore, Casey moved to tight end, where he started 13 games. He caught the ball so well that he set a school record with 111 receptions for 1,329 yards. He also ran the ball, gaining 241 yards on 57 carries. Against Memphis, he piled up 208 receiving yards. His sophomore performance earned him third-team Rival All-American and first-team All-Conference USA honors.
He declared for the NFL following his sophomore year. He wasn’t ignoring his education, either. He had a triple major in Economics, Sports Management, and Managerial Studies and a 3.84 GPA.
Casey was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2009. By 2011, he was their starting fullback. He spent four years with Houston under Gary Kubiak. In 2012, he snagged a career-high 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He also played in a number of tight end sets with fellow new Bronco Owen Daniels. Kubiak is putting an effective combo back together.
The Broncos are getting a very smart, athletic, experienced player. He knows Kubiak’s approach. He’s physically and emotionally tough. He has skills in every phase of the tight end, fullback and running back positions. I’d been wondering where Denver was going to replace the production of Julius Thomas. Now I know. Casey is 6’3” and 240 lb. He’s shorter than Thomas, but his production is remarkable. And, he can block, which will be a nice change of pace.
At 30, he’s still a productive, rugged player. He’s equally comfortable carrying, blocking, or receiving. He plays fullback, H-back, and tight end. He’s on a one year, show-me contract. I hope he shows enough to be around for a few years. Having Daniels, Virgil Green, and Casey together is an exciting trio going into the 2015 season. Given Kubiak’s penchant for two-tight-end sets, Denver’s in good shape.
The game itself is exciting, intricate, and ever-evolving. Getting to cheer for this level of character in a player makes it even more fun. He reminds me of an older David Bruton. It’s good to have this kind of presence in the locker room. Casey’s old enough to give Virgil Green some mentoring, too.