James Palmer loves football because of the camaraderie, the commitment and the challenge.
His Yelm High School teammates have noticed.
A year ago, Palmer started a few games on defense, but never earned a regular position after joining the program as a transfer student following Yelm’s first game. This summer the Tornados voted the senior running back and defensive back a team captain.
“The kids see his attitude and commitment to the team,” Yelm coach Jason Ronquillo said. “He’s there for every team activity. He’s vocal, he demonstrates leadership.”
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Palmer, who attended College Place High School near Walla Walla before coming to Yelm, appreciates his teammates’ faith.
“It’s pretty great to come here and after less than a year be voted a team captain,” he said. “I try to always be positive and motivate the team. If somebody drops a pass and thinks their day is ruined, I’ll try to get them back on track. I want to always work hard and be a good guy.”
Palmer was formally adopted by Willard, one of his four older brothers, but continued to visit his mother, Keisha, who lives in South Puget Sound.
“We got tired of driving back and forth five or six times a year,” he said of his move to Yelm.
The Palmer family’s road fatigue turned into an unexpected blessing for Yelm.
“There’s been a lot of twists and turns in his life, but he’s very resilient,” Ronquillo said. “I’ve been around him for a year now, and I flat out love him.”
One thing Yelm’s coaching staff instantly noticed when Palmer arrived last September, with no understanding of the Tornados system, was his instinct for football. He saw playing time at defensive back, linebacker, running back, slot receiver and on special teams.
“When he came to us, he was kind of behind the eight ball,” Ronquillo said. “We had a really good running back in Brandon Thompson, a pretty good (defensive backs) crew, and he was learning. He took a while to get his feet underneath him, but towards the end of the year we could see he was a natural player.”
This season, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Palmer is expected to fill the big shoes of the graduated Thompson. With quarterback Kyle Robinson returning for his senior year and an offensive line anchored by veteran standouts Jacob Dimond and Bradley McGannon as well as Damian Hernandez, a transfer from California, Palmer has a chance to be successful.
“His top end speed is really fast,” Ronquillo said. “He ran an 11.5 (in the 100-meter dash) during track last spring. But can be a grinder, a 30 to 40 carry guy. ... He’s not afraid of contact. He’ll get that extra yard.”
As good as Palmer may be as a running back, both he and Ronquillo agree his brightest future as a college prospect is likely on defense.
“I’m smaller, quicker, closer to the ground,” Palmer said. “I can get to the ball.”
Ronquillo points to the secondary as a strength for the Tornados with Palmer joining fellow seniors Alex Morris and Jack McCown.
“James is instinctual, he covers well,” Ronquillo said. “With his speed and the way he plays downhill, he could be a strong safety in the right system.”
Meanwhile, Palmer is focused on making his only full season in a Yelm uniform count.
“I think we’re going to do something big this season,” he said. “Our friendship is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen between teammates. I think we’re going to do something special.”