CHICAGO — Audrey Davis received the best surprise Christmas present this week.
When she walked into her Edgewater home on Sunday, her grandson — Pitt freshman running back Chris James — was waiting inside. It was the first time James had visited Davis — who raised James since he was 4 years old — since he left for college a few months ago.
"She means the world to me," said James, a former superstar at Notre Dame College Prep. "She's been there for me my whole entire life and raised me my whole entire life."
James, who's rushed for 404 yards and four touchdowns this season after amassing 4,220 yards and 53 touchdowns as a three-year starter at NDCP, wasn't sure he'd be able to see Davis this year. But Pitt's next game — the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl against Houston — isn't until Jan. 2, so he and his teammates were given time off this week to return home.
"We both were elated because I think that Christmas is a time for family and for friends, and it is a tradition, and I always like to make a big deal of it, and that’s why I wanted him to come home," Davis said.
James' mother, Tonya Holmes, died when he was 4 years old following complications from appendix surgery. James said his father, Christopher, did not play a big role in his life, but Christopher's mother, Davis, stepped in to raise him. She was his legal guardian until he turned 18 last year.
After his mother's death, James' three other siblings were raised by his maternal grandmother, he said.
"I've definitely had some ups and downs in my life, but all that stuff builds character, builds morale and helps me be as humble as I am," James said.
That mindset spurred James at Notre Dame in suburban Niles, where the running back earned two all-state selections and averaged well more than 6 yards per carry his junior and senior campaigns.
"Chris always had great goals in mind, and he knew how to work in order to make those goals happen," added Hennessey, of Portage Park. "Determination and hard work have been mainstays for Chris. Because of this, he will be in the hunt to succeed."
Davis, a former teacher at Lake View High School, and James' siblings haven't been able to witness him play in person this season, but they've seen a number of Pitt games on television.
"I know they're always watching me, especially my grandma, and they all cared about me," James said.
James said he's been homesick since leaving for Pitt over the summer and has relished the much-needed break.
James made sure he didn't answer the phone Sunday — he knew Davis would be calling him — and when he arrived at his grandma's home, she wasn't there. So James, who has a key, unpacked and waited for Davis to come through the door to surprise her.
On Monday, James and Davis went shopping for a live Christmas tree, and Davis is spending Christmas Eve preparing a "feast" of roasted chicken, ham, dressing and other side dishes.
"I am extremely happy that I was able to come home," James said.
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