LARAMIE --  He was supposed to be with his older brother that fateful September night back in 2018.

With school and football practice the next day, his mother said it wasn't such a good idea.

It wasn't.

At approximately 11:15 p.m., 23-year-old Savon Bell was shot and killed while he was sitting in the driver's seat of his car. A 17-year-old was responsible. He turned himself in to police two nights later.

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Da'Qualen James didn't hear the tragic news right away. His mother, Memory James, attempting to protect him once again, decided to wait.

"She didn't want to tell me because I had a game that week," he said, wiping his left eye. "She eventually had to tell me.

"... I just burst out crying. That was my role model."

Da'Qualen, or better known now as DQ, slipped his brown Wyoming hoodie up over his head Friday afternoon in the north end zone at War Memorial Stadium. Under a white tank top, the word "GOAT" is tattooed across the 19 year old's back from one shoulder blade to the other.

It stands for "greatest of all time."

"He had it on his back, too," James said of his brother. "... That's what he always called me, as well."

Just three days later, an emotional James found himself standing in the offensive backfield with less than 2:00 remaining in the fourth quarter. His team, the Lancaster Tigers, were trailing by one. The sophomore running back took a handoff, made a cut, and blazed 34 yards into the end zone to give his team a 13-8 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

Lancaster 21
Mansfield Legacy 8

"I scored the game-winning touchdown," the south Dallas native said with a smile. "That was for him. Most definitely."

 

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That grin is infectious. It's inviting, friendly. His confidence beams. Others may question his ability, he doesn't.

James attended football camps at Alabama, LSU, Florida and USC. His 5-foot-7 frame scared teams off despite breakneck speed that landed him on the fastest 4x100 team -- 40.65 -- in the nation in high school. He also ran the 100-meter dash in 10.83 seconds.

James just shrugs. Their loss.

"It was real shocking at first," he said. "I guess I was too small, or whatever. But, you know, speed kills every time. People say 'why do you run so fast? Why do you run so hard?' Because I have a chip on my shoulder.

"I'm just blessed to play at the next level. I'm going to give my all to Wyoming."

That wasn't always the plan.

On April 5, 2020, James verbally committed to Todd Graham and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.

The three-star running back turned down New Mexico, Southern Miss, Louisiana-Monroe and others. He was even offered by Craig Bohl.

It's easy to see why.

On just 82 rushing attempts, James gashed defenses for 1,404 yards and 22 touchdowns. He added two more scores through the air. In his career at Lancaster High School, James amassed 2,815 rushing yards and found the end zone on the ground 39 times.

"He's got some exceptional speed," Bohl said Friday after the Cowboys concluded practice. "He's pretty muscular for a freshman. He's not real tall in stature, but he's very competitive. We're glad we got him."

So, how exactly did that happen?

There's another senseless tragedy behind that story.

Tony Evans Jr., 17, a wide receiver at Lancaster and a Wyoming commit, was shot and killed last April inside a Dallas hotel room. An 18-year-old has been indicted for the murder.

"That hurts me a lot," James said. "We were real close teammates. He said, 'Come be a Cowboy with me.' With Hawaii, I knew my parents couldn't afford to travel out there to see me. So, I decided to go with him. He flipped me."

James knows he should be here today with him inside this locker room.

"I heard the news and it broke my heart," he said. "Every time I come out here I look at the sky and say 'I got you.'"

James sports another tattoo across his stomach. It's the big, bold numbers "214" joined by the Dallas skyline. There are roses and sunbeams inked on his chest and a full sleeve covering his entire left arm. His first tattoo, a football with a crown on it, is etched onto his shoulder. He got it when he was 15.

They all have a special meaning, he says.

So does this journey that brought him to Laramie.

"I'm going to give it everything," James said. "That's the goal.

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