James lets it all hang out at corner

Until Saturday, Mil’Von James spent his time at UNLV proving UCLA’s coaches right.

The Bruins saw him as a safety, not a cornerback. But James believed his calling was at corner and in 2005 he transferred to UNLV, where he was given the chance to play that position.

The senior proved himself and the Rebels coaches right Saturday night, playing his best game and breaking up a career-high four passes in a 27-0 victory over Utah.

“I feel like I can play both (positions),” James said. “But right now I play corner, and I just work my butt off to be the best I can be and also one of the best in the nation.”

James’ performance against the Utes went beyond a career game. He broke up only three passes in 12 games last season, when he made nine starts, and he had only one breakup this season before playing Utah.

Before his breakout game, James was better known for giving up big plays, not making them. Last year, opposing quarterbacks mostly ignored current Cleveland Browns cornerback Eric Wright on one side and went after James.

Though the extra attention was difficult for James at the time, coach Mike Sanford said the player benefited.

Indeed, it proved to be a valuable learning experience for James, and he said part of the difficulty was splitting time and not developing a better feel for the game. He also was learning the Mountain West Conference receivers.

“A lot of these players I’m playing against, I’ve seen before,” James said. “I learned their routes from last year. I learn some of the play calls. I learned a lot of signals.”

James has started all four games this season entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest at UNR. But last week he was listed as the backup to junior college transfer Geoffery Howard before the Utah game. It got James’ attention, even though he wound up starting.

James called it “a wake-up call” that merely showing up for practices and games would not guarantee anything.

“It’s not going to be handed to you,” he said. “Go take it, and that’s what I felt like I did.”

Sanford said the starting job will continue to be determined weekly based on performance.

“It has kind of forced (James) to be at the top of his game,” Sanford said.

Of course, if James continues to play as well as he did against the Utes, it would be hard to imagine him dropping back to No. 2 on the depth chart.

His challenge will be to gain consistency. James doesn’t need to break up four passes every game, but allowing the big plays he often surrendered last season should be an even more distant memory.

“My first goal is to make more plays like I did this game and make bigger plays,” James said. “The more I make, the better off the defense is.”

• NOTES — Tailback David Peeples, a Cheyenne High School product, is expected to miss two weeks because of a concussion he suffered against Utah. Offensive tackle Mario Jeberaeel (Chaparral) will be out two to six weeks with a sprained knee. Linebacker Ronnie Paulo (Western) is questionable with a knee strain. Defensive end Thor Pili (sprained right shoulder) is expected to play after missing last weekend.

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