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James Casey Lives By His Hometown's Motto

Posted Oct 11, 2014

The motto of Azle, Texas, is "Community and Opportunity."

Nobody knows the depth and weight of this motto better than tight end James Casey.

Casey was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but went to high school at Azle High School, 30 minutes away from Fort Worth. When Casey was a 16-year-old high school student and football player at Azle, his mother passed away in a fire that engulfed his home and everything he owned.

He had a backpack and his clothes to his name. That was it.

Azle took him in and took care of him. The citizens provided him with clothing, money and a place to stay. He lived all over, including staying with the trainer at Azle High School.

True to the city's motto, the community of Azle gave Casey the opportunity to turn a terrible situation into a successful future.

A little over 13 years after he lost everything, James Casey is playing professional football the only way he could play it: as a standout on special teams, making the most of an opportunity and giving up individual accolades for the good of the team.

In Week 5, Casey played 52 snaps on offense and special teams, the most he's seen this year with the Eagles. Though he's listed as a tight end on the depth chart, this past Sunday's win over the Rams was the first time Casey played more than 20 snaps on offense. He took 25 snaps on offense and 27 snaps on special teams.

And though he enjoys getting offensive snaps, Casey really prides himself on his spot on the special teams unit. It may not get the love it deserves, he says, but it's what he loves.

"I've been starting on every special teams play all season - punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return, field goal - so I'm always getting a lot of work and doing a lot of stuff out there, and I've been doing a good job with that," Casey said Wednesday. "I've been getting offensive snaps here and there, and I feel like I've been doing a good job.

"I was fortunate enough to get a lot of opportunities this last game. It felt good to contribute. I thought I did a good job, with a lot of sift blocks across the ball. It just felt good to get out there and contribute, and we had a few big runs out of those formations. I've played a lot of snaps, when you count all those special teams plays and it's however many offensive plays."

In a league where the stars are born with flashy plays on offense or defense, there's little room in the casual football fan's consciousness for an All-Star third-string tight end or special teams star.

But Casey has had a sizable impact on the Eagles' season thus far, contributing two big plays that have essentially resulted in two wins.

In Week 3, Casey caught a 19-yard pass late in the fourth quarter for a first down. The catch was enough to seal the Eagles' three-point win over Washington. In the team's Week 5 win over the Rams, Casey blocked a punt in the first minute of the game, which Chris Maragos picked up and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. The Eagles won that game by six points, which they wouldn't have had without Casey's punt block.

It was the Eagles' fourth special teams touchdown of the season. As the unit has helped keep the team in games, and, by extension, win games, the unit has received attention unlike anything Casey is used to. Don't get him wrong - he's appreciated it. He's just not used to it.

Normally, very few people know the amount of effort special teams players put in.

"On special teams, the team knows - we watch film on every play, see everything from last year, this year, they know what's happening - but nobody else really does," Casey explained. "None of the media and none of the fans know until you do something really great like we've been able to do this year. With the touchdowns this year, people are starting to recognize it and talk about it. If we weren't doing that, it would be the same thing."

It's an interesting way to play the most popular sport in America. Casey and his fellow special teams cohorts - Maragos, linebacker Bryan Braman, cornerback Nolan Carroll II and running back Chris Polk included - go into each game expecting to be afterthoughts.

They don't seek immediate recognition for their contributions to the team. It's a communal effort.

"You do it for your teammates," Casey mused. "You do it for the guys that are out there with you, those other 10 guys that are out there fighting hard and giving everything they've got, making it important to them. You know you're not going to get a ton of recognition, but that's just the way it goes."

Recognition and stardom aren't the keys as a young player trying to make in the NFL, Casey explained. When you're starting out, you look for any opportunity you can get your hands on.

For a lot of players, including Casey, that means contributing on special teams.

"You've got to take pride in the fact that you're still playing in the NFL," Casey said. "It's still a big-time opportunity, and that's how a lot of guys make the team and stay on the team for a long time, like myself. I'm going into my sixth season, and a big reason I've been able to be successful playing in the NFL for this long is special teams, and a lot of other guys on our team are the same way.

"The younger guys, I think - when you get a good team together, a good group of guys, the younger guys see you taking pride in it and seeing how important it is to the older guys and it's just infectious. It catches on, and your whole unit gets that confidence, gets that swagger, and you just do it for the unit, you do it for your team, because you know how important it is."

As the Eagles prepare to face the Giants, Casey knows the team's special teams unit has a target on its back now.

"All the other special teams units we're going against are going to be gunning for us because they know we've had a great first five games," he said.

"But at the same time, we have had a great first five for a reason. We've got really great players, great coaches and we're trying to keep that going."

Casey might not block a punt this weekend. The Eagles' special teams unit most likely won't score another touchdown on a blocked punt. In fact, the odds are stacked against them doing so - before Week 4, the Eagles hadn't scored a punt block touchdown since 1992.

But that's not important to Casey. He'll march out on to Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday night, and he'll just be thankful for the opportunity. He'll play as hard as he can in the special teams trenches, sacrificing his body for the good of the team.

He was once given an opportunity by the community of Azle.

Since then, he's made it his mission to do the same for his team.

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