Penn State tight end Jesse James feeling 'better than ever' after suffering big hit vs. UCF

Penn State tight end Jesse James. (Steve Flynn/USA Today Sports)

Jesse James suffered a jarring hit in the open field in Penn State’s season-opening win against UCF, which appeared to occasionally hold him back during parts of the second half.

But the 6-foot-7 tight end, who finished the game with six catches for 70 yards, quickly negated any notion of lingering injury when fielding questions Tuesday afternoon.

“That was a big hit, but I'm 270 pounds for a reason,” James said. “I can take those big hits.”

James said he feels “better than ever” heading into the Nittany Lions’ home opener against Akron Saturday. A healthy James would likely mean continued chemistry between the tight end and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has leaned on James since arriving on campus last fall.

In 2013, James totaled 25 catches for 333 yards — best among a deep tight end corps — and also was Penn State’s leading receiver to return this season following the departure of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder.

James was especially visible in the Lions’ first three possessions against the Knights, when he made three first down grabs for 27 yards, before making a 22-yard snag toward the end of the half.

“I thought Jesse played extremely well,” coach James Franklin said. “He made some big plays for us, made some big blocks for us...a tremendous presence for us on the field. I think opportunities and things like that really just come down to what the defense is giving you.”

UCF’s defense gave Hackenberg, who threw for a Penn State-record 454 yards in the Lions’ 26-24 win, several opportunities to show off his arm. And while receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Eugene Lewis combined for 19 catches and 338 yards, the sophomore quarterback still connected with the tight end position on 10 of his passes.

“They can’t take away everything,” Franklin said.

After two years playing under now-NFL coach — and tight-end favoring — Bill O’Brien, James cited offensive coordinator and tight ends coordinator John Donovan as a major reason for the seamless transition throughout the offseason.

“A big part of it was just adjusting to the new language coming in,” James said, “and now that we're pretty used to it through camp and spring ball, we're back on the same page there.”