Rice University Owls football player James Sykes
Black and white photograph of Rice University Owls football player James Sykes, class of 1964, headlining his achievement into the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame. Caption reads: There wasn’t exactly a “media blitz” when James Sykes signed with Rice back in 1973. He was from a small school, Coldspring, in Montgomery County instead of a big 5-A power, and his grid prowess wasn’t much publicized beyond the county. He was borderline on the boards, and a nice, quiet young fellow who didn’t brag on himself. Now, 14 years later, he is deservedly acclaimed as a member of the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame and serves as a sterling example of what a young man can do who takes advantage of a chance at a good college education via athletic skills. Sykes proves that effort and dertermination can pay off. Rice fans best will remember James as one of the key man, along with such stalwarts as David Houser and Doug Cunningham, in helping Tommy Kramer make consensus All-American quarterback in 1976 with some amazing passing stats. Sykes caught 76 passes, mainly on little swing outs from the backfield. His 157 yards against UH was the fourth in Rice history for receiving yards in a game, and the Kramer-to-Sykes 80 yard TD toss that day was third best ever by Owls. Sykes also had a 4.2 average per carry rushing for his 1973 -1976 career, ranking him just behind Dick Maegle, Kosse Johnson (both first team All-Americans), Antonio Brinkley, and Lester Lehman in Owl history. The Sykes story, though, is more than just impressive stats. Where this hard working, disciplined lad made his mark was to come in to a strong academic program and make good grades to receive his degree on schedule with his class. He did so by developing good study habits, almost perfect class and lab attendance, and plain hard work. He had the skills to give pro ball a shot, and also made the most of that opportunity. After a year in the NFL with Washington Redskins in 1977, James switched to the Canadian League in ’78. He led the league in rushing in 1980, ’81, ’82 and was consistently in the top five in all-purpose performance as a runner, receiver, punt returns, and kickoff returns. He played for Calgary, and in mid-1983 season was traded to Winnipeg where he played through last season (1986). Nine Canadian seasons in all, Sykes was All-CFL in 1978 and 1980, and MVP on his team three times. Sykes had the top career thrill of playing for a championship team when Winnipeg won the famous Grey Cup for the CFL title in 1984, but even that didn’t top the most exciting moment of his whole football life. In his first start as a Rice freshman (vs. Montana at Rice Stadium) in 1973, he ran the opening kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown! He went on to lead the nation in kickoff returns, was second in NCAA receiving once, and was named to the SEC All-Decade team of the 1970’s as kick return specialist. He has many fond memories of his Rice years and a host of old teammates amd classmates he hopes he will get to see more often now that he is home year-round (he owns his home in Coldspring where he spent some off season time out of Canada).
Rice Athletic Hall of Fame
Citable link to this pagehttps://hdl.handle.net/1911/64118
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