Written by John Antonik
A physically imposing athlete on the field, fullback Jim Braxton was a soft-spoken, gentle person off it. Entering the University in 1967 after a stellar high school career at Connellsville High School, it took the Vanderbilt, Pa., native just one year before becoming a regular for WVU in 1968.
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The Mountaineers' second leading rusher as a sophomore with 272 yards on 83 carries, he also snared 18 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for a team-best 843 yards on 199 carries while scoring 13 touchdowns for the 10-1 Peach Bowl champion Mountaineers. Equally talented as a kicker, Braxton booted three field goals and converted 26 of 30 PAT's to finish eighth in the country in scoring with 113 points.
Converted to tight end as a senior, Braxton snagged 27 passes for 565 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed the football 51 times for 347 yards and one score. For his efforts, he was honored by the Associated Press as a first team All-American at tight end. All told, Braxton accumulated 1,462 yards rushing and 906 yards receiving in a brilliant Mountaineer career.
As a professional, he would take on a different role. Drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Bills, Braxton no longer was the team's main offensive weapon. Instead, he found a niche as the blocking back for O.J. Simpson.
Standing 6-1 and weighing nearly 250 pounds, Braxton was certainly suited for the task. Built like a tank, Braxton was also quick and agile, which enabled O.J. Simpson to get many of his 11,236 career rushing yards. A good runner in his own right, Braxton's best year came in 1975 when he rushed for 823 yards on 186 carries for nine touchdowns. During one game that season against the St. Louis Cardinals, Braxton plowed his way to a career-best 160 yards on 34 carries. Injuring his knee in the first game of the 1976 season, he played one more year with the Bills before finishing out his NFL career in 1978 with the Miami Dolphins. During eight years he gained 2,890 yards rushing, while catching 141 passes for 1,473 yards. He accounted for 31 touchdowns as a rusher and receiver.
After his playing career, Braxton, nicknamed "Bubby," was involved in many community and civic organizations while serving as a manager of the Hilltop complexes in Buffalo. Also a member of the NAACP, Braxton was an articulate man who always found time for children.
Braxton, a 1990 inductee into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, succumbed to cancer on July 28, 1986, at the age of 37. His teammate O.J. Simpson gave one of the most fitting eulogies of Jim Braxton the athlete and Jim Braxton the man.
"I've lost a teammate; I've lost a dear friend," said Simpson at the time of his death. "Bubby was my protector on the field, my companion off it. What he meant to my career is impossible to calculate, but I know many of the things I achieved wouldn't have been possible without him."