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November 16, 2007 > Sports > Hammer of Thor

Hammer of Thor

While remaining near midfield after a grueling practice, Thor, a 23-year old former minor league baseball player so well put together his coaches named him after a Norse god, hurls a football to the back-line of the end zone. The throw is fairly impressive, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Division I quarterback … assuming that quarterback is standing up.

But Thor does this from one knee. Regularly.

Split personality

While Thor is a bruising, multitalented football player who could conceivably play almost any position on the field, James Casey is a soft-spoken, impeccably polite gentleman from small-town Texas who likes nothing more than to make his wife laugh. Casey addresses his coaches by saying “yes, sir” and “no, sir” without fail, and is sure to greet anyone he’s ever been around with a smile and a hello.

No player in recent memory has captured the fascination of fans quite like Thor has. The bruising freshman, who is listed in the media guide as a tight end but really plays receiver, quarterback, running back and defensive end, has his own cult following — a group of students who sport Thor T-shirts and sound resounding battle cries any time he touches the ball. However, according to Casey’s wife Kylie, Thor is not his first nickname.

“In the minor leagues they called him Curveball Casey because he had an amazing curveball,” she said. “They also called him Hercules — when they’d call him in out of the bullpen, they’d flex their arms.”

Casey’s baseball career spanned four minor-league seasons. He was drafted into the Chicago White Sox’ organization in the seventh round, 202nd overall, in 2003. Life in the minor leagues was different — Casey lived off an $850 monthly stipend, and was pretty much left to take care of himself.

However, the menial life soon began to take its toll, and after three years without promotion and a year of independent ball, Casey was ready to move on.

A shift in his game

After the baseball experiment did not go according to plan, Casey was forced to set his sights on other endeavors. He got together with high school coaches and put together a packet with a tape of old game film and a cover letter, which is the status quo. What separated this packet from the norm was the inclusion of a photo of himself and his muscular physique.

“If someone told you a baseball player wanted to play football and you couldn’t see him, you just might not know what I look like,” Casey said. “A lot of baseball players are smaller type guys.”

So out the tapes went — to the University of Houston, Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas, several junior colleges, and to current Rice junior Dustin Hufsey, a former teammate of Casey’s. Hufsey, who was playing defensive back for the Owls at the time, took Casey’s tape to the football office.

Rice coaches liked what they saw and invited Casey to visit the school. When Thor walked through the door, he was offered a scholarship on the spot, but he had to accept quickly.

“My uncle talked to Houston on the phone, [and] they wanted me to come talk to them,” he said. ‘It was going to be right after [visiting Rice], but [Rice] offered me a scholarship here. And with the university and the academics, I wanted to come here.”

The same week Casey arrived on campus, former head football coach Todd Graham left for the University of Tulsa. As Casey tried to adjust to being in school for the first time in four years, he said he had no idea what his future held.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do, if I was going to pass my classes, if I was even going to remember any math or anything,” Casey said. “Then that week Coach Graham comes in on a Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and says that he’s leaving. I didn’t know the rules about scholarships or anything like that, so I was like ‘Oh no, am I going to have to leave?’”

Luckily for both Casey and Rice, his scholarship was already set.

The legend grows

According to his growing mythology, Thor can play every position at once, throw a football into outer space and hurl a baseball 95 miles per hour — and that last claim is actually true. When head coach David Bailiff was asked about what plans he had for Thor before seeing him play, his response was humorous.

“Well, I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with him, but I do know if he had a muscle spasm he might die,” Bailiff said.

What Thor can actually do is spend an extra 20 or 30 minutes after every practice going over things like switching his ball hand or catching quick dump passes from junior quarterback Chase Clement after every practice. He also takes 18 hours this semester. Yes, this semester.

During football season.

In his first semester at Rice, Thor’s GPA was a 4.0.

Aside from football and hitting the books, Casey spends most of his time with his wife, whom he has known for nearly ten years. James and Kylie met on the first day of their junior year of high school in an art class. Kylie had previously lived in the West Texas town of Muleshoe, but moved to Azle to play basketball for her aunt, the school’s head coach. Kylie’s uncle was James’ football coach, and he didn’t think his niece should be dating anyone, even his star quarterback.

“My uncle wasn’t too happy about it at first,” she said. “He didn’t want me dating anyone, but James was a good guy, so he got over it pretty fast.”

In spite of the fact that James Casey is 23 years old, married, and has been out of high school since 2003, he is still a true freshman on the field. And perhaps strangest of all, he and his teammates do not see the difference.

“I view him just like I view any other freshman, 18 or not,” Clement said.

While playing all over the field has been fun for Thor, he and his coaches know where he hopes to ultimately end up — taking snaps as an everyday quarterback. However, until Clement is gone and Thor is ready, the fans should expect to see him continue to shine at whatever position can showcase his athletic ability.

“He’s going to be a quarterback here eventually,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “Until his time [comes,] we’re going to continue to use him any way that we can.”

While James Casey may be shy around strangers and devoted to the idea of family life, he is also the man who puts on a helmet and runs over linebackers as if they were on junior varsity high school squads. It’s the combination of the two that makes James Casey who he is, and why his wife spends most of her time with James. But she likes being married to Thor, too.

“I do have some Thor shirts myself,” Kylie Casey said. “I wear them around the house sometimes.”

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