Beaufort News

Only in Beaufort: How one Beaufortonian succeeded in football -- and life

James Saxon, right, was voted "most likely to succeed" in the 1984 Battery Creek High School yearbook.
James Saxon, right, was voted "most likely to succeed" in the 1984 Battery Creek High School yearbook.

Former Battery Creek High School football standout James Saxon was one of two people voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by his classmates.

Whatever other collective decisions the Class of 1984 made, they sure got that one right.

His high school coach, Joe Stroman, also saw qualities in Saxon that would make him successful.

"He had leadership, was outspoken and was motivated," said Stroman.

As a sixth-round draft pick in 1988, Saxon joined the rebuilding Kansas City Chiefs just as a string of playoff runs was about to begin. Under head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Saxon was in a loaded backfield with fellow running backs Christian Okoye and Kimble Anders in an offense that liked to run the football. Their position coach was Bruce Arians, now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Success -- and successful people -- just seemed to surround Saxon.

Though Saxon's first season in 1989 ended with an 8-7-1 team record, Schottenheimer told the Associated Press that "the nucleus is here for a championship team." Saxon was a part of that nucleus, scampering for a six-yard touchdown in the final game that year. His leadership was as integral to the Chiefs as it had been for Battery Creek earlier that decade.

Nintendo even immortalized Saxon in the video game Tecmo Super Bowl, where an electronic version of Dan Marino handed him the ball. That's when Saxon was playing for the Miami Dolphins, where he started the last nine games of the 1994 season after an injury to starter Keith Byars.

It's become fashionable to be from Beaufort and play in the NFL, but Saxon came from a time when the believability of that happening was low. He's been followed in more recent years by Greg Jones, Donnell Washington, Ron Parker and Devin Taylor, all of whom could follow Saxon's example of a successful transition to life after the NFL.

After his playing career ended with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, Saxon moved permanently onto the sidelines.

Stroman saw that coming as well.

"If James thought he could do something, he would talk you into believing him," said Stroman. "And there wasn't anything he couldn't do once his mind was set."

As an NFL position coach, Saxon has been with five different teams over the past fifteen seasons. In the volatile world of 21st Century coaching, where winning seasons are no longer tolerated without multiple championship achievements, it says something that Saxon has found steady employment. The level of talent he has coached to Pro Bowl seasons -- Adrian Peterson, Ricky Williams and Priest Holmes chief among them -- speaks for itself.

In fact, he couldn't be reached for comment.

Though he still comes home to Beaufort to visit his family and old coach, he's currently the running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Steelers are back in the NFL playoffs. He's probably busy game-planning and blowing a whistle.

Guess the Class of 1984 got it right.

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at rlcopeland@hargray.com.

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