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One month ago, class of 2020 De La Salle running back James Coby read a text message that would alter his football career forever.
Coby, who was initially planning on going the junior college route at Diablo Valley College, heard from his high school head coach, Justin Alumbaugh, who told him there was an opportunity to go play college football.
Ferris State was interested, opening the doors to what would be a commitment and signing to play at the Division II school in Michigan last week.
“It’s a big dream,” Coby said. “I’m glad I got there. It’s been a long time. I’ve been waiting for it. I knew if something would go through. Just put it in God’s hands, and it’s just great to be a college football player now.”
This was a moment Coby promised to his mother, who passed away from breast cancer his junior year at De La Salle.
He told her he was never going to quit and would keep pushing to make everything he envisioned come true.
“When it happened I was broken,” Coby said. “I just made a promise to her that I’m just going to keep grinding and get out of here.”
His mother taught him a work ethic he will forever carry – one that has helped him reach his ambition of playing collegiately.
She worked two jobs. Overnight shifts. Early mornings.
Yet none of that deterred her from supporting her son as a single parent.
“She worked as a doctor, like a nurse, like overnight shifts and she was a teacher at a preschool,” Coby said. “And she was like all around Berkeley, Berkeley Unified School District. And she would get up, she would have to go to work at 7, she would get up at like 5:45 to take me to Bart and then go straight to work. And I was living in Berkeley.”
Coby more than delivered on that promise during a star-studded career that began from a young age.
As an eighth grader, Coby was in an all-star game against Snoop Dogg’s squad, and people took notice of just what he could do then.
“I got an Under the Radar spotlight, so I’m like, ‘I can feel I can do it,’” Coby said.
In high school, it was much of the same thing at one of the country’s top programs.
His junior season saw him rush for 448 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 9.3 yards per carry – with his rushing totals only behind two players who are now on Division I football rosters in Shamar Garrett (San Jose State) and Henry To’oto’o (Tennessee) – as he and the Spartans went 12-1 overall, advanced to the CIF Open Division state championship game and finished as the No. 9 team nationally by MaxPreps.
Turn around to his senior campaign, and Coby – also a cousin of former De La Salle star Antoine Custer, who just wrapped up a dominant college career at Eastern Washington – improved his efforts on the gridiron even more.
Coby ran for 610 yards and six touchdowns – the second-most on the roster behind Garrett – while hauling in 117 receiving yards to help De La Salle to a 12-2 mark and another trip to the CIF Open Division state championship game.
“Just growing up watching him, like my whole middle school career watching him, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to De La Salle and I’m going to be just like him,'” Coby said of Custer. “That’s how it was to me. I basically looked up to him. I just feel like he pushed me a lot, motivated me. And being from Berkeley, the same as me, not too many people get out of Berkeley.”
Ferris State saw all of that potential and talent, leading to Garrett teaming up with a fellow Bay Area native on the other side of the country.
Former Liberty head coach Ryan Partridge, who led Liberty to its first-ever state title in 2018, took an assistant job at Ferris State last month and is out there experiencing the same thing as a newbie in Michigan.
“When we first started talking, I could just feel the connection,” Coby said. “He’s from the Bay. I’m from the Bay, so that helped me out. He got a little bit more comfortable, because it’s in Michigan. There’s not many California guys out there I think, but it just got in my heart to do it.”
Today, he has accomplished his college football dreams and more than delivered on the promise he made to his mother.
“I’m pretty sure she’s very happy,” Coby said. “Smiling at me right now.”
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