James Proche II sets his alarm for 5:25 a.m. during training camp. That's sleeping in. During the offseason, he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to "maximize the day."
The second-year wide receiver has always been a player that has impressed coaches and teammates with his work ethic. Now it's paying off, as Proche has been one of the most impressive and consistent players of Ravens training camp practices so far.
Proche is always the first Ravens player onto the field for practice. He takes extra passes off the JUGS machine while the grass is still covered in dew. It's not something he started this year to make a good impression; he did it last year too.
"It's just a byproduct of the work I put it. God gave me a vision, and I'm just trying to execute it, day by day," Proche said of his impressive training camp.
"It's kind of like a popular thing now, but my idol – almost look at him like dad – is Kobe Bryant. So, I kind of take that 'Mamba Mentality.' Before I knew what the word 'mentality' was, as a little kid, I was like, '[Dang], I want to be like that.' And I kind of took it to heart. That's all I know – is work, work, work, work, work, work, work – and that gives you results. So, if it isn't broke, don't fix it."
Proche had a challenging rookie year. Just like all rookies, COVID-19 wiped out all offseason practices until training camp and the preseason. That left the sixth-round rookie from Southern Methodist University with a small offensive role.
He got his first target in Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but linebacker Robert Spillane stepped in front and returned it for a touchdown on the Ravens' opening drive. Proche caught his first pass three weeks later for a 14-yard gain against the Tennessee Titans. He was targeted again in the following game in Pittsburgh, this time by Robert Griffin III, and it was again picked off and returned for a touchdown.
Three targets, two pick-sixes. That was the last time Proche was targeted, and he was inactive for Baltimore's final four games, including both in the playoffs.
But Proche didn't let it get to him. After Monday's practice, he made another NBA reference, pointing to Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker being 24 years old – just like him – but already having six seasons under his belt. Proche is still in the early stages of his career, still learning and growing.
"You've got to trust your journey," Proche said. "It's not one single script for everybody, so everybody has a different story, different script, [and] everybody is on different chapters; I trust mine wholeheartedly, and the plan that God has for me."
Proche's script has had its fair share of drama. He wanted to go to the NBA when he was a kid, but his 5-foot-11 frame didn't play along. Football was his ticket, but during his senior year at DeSoto High School, not too far outside Dallas, Proche dropped to his knees and was rushed to the hospital in the middle of an August practice. He felt weak and had sharp abdominal pain.
Proche was in the hospital for a week, including a couple days in intensive care and on kidney dialysis. After multiple tests, he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure, which is a sudden loss of kidney function that if left untreated can result in death. However, with proper treatment and diet, his kidney function has returned to normal.
Proche was in the middle of the recruiting process and had to miss two months of action, but SMU stuck with him. The Mustangs still ruled him ineligible to play his freshman year as they monitored his kidney, forcing him to redshirt that first year. So Proche is accustomed to having to be patient.
He made it all worth it, breaking out with 709 receiving yards in his first season. Proche's 1,225 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns and NCAA-best 111 receptions during his senior year helped SMU win 10 games for the first time since 1984.
Proche finished his college career as the program's all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions, receiving touchdowns and all-purpose yards. The school also produced big-time NFL receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, by the way. He credits nothing but his work.
"As you grow up, you get advice from older guys in college, in the league, and you can call them cliché, but they're clichés for a reason, right? So I just listen," Proche said. "They're like, 'Do this while you're waiting,' or 'Get out there early. Take extra reps.' I'm like, 'OK, you're where I'm at, so let me do that.' It's really all just listening, opening up my ears and then putting it into action.
"I just love the process. I love this whole lifestyle, and not the outside stuff – the lights, the girls, the money. I love being in the process, really grinding, getting better. That's me. That's in my DNA."
Now Proche needs to put it together in NFL games. Standing out in practice is great, but it has to transfer. With rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman sidelined by groin surgery, Proche and fellow second-year wide receiver Devin Duvernay have an opening to make an offensive impact early in the season. Who's going to take advantage?
Proche had two targets and one catch for 8 yards in Saturday's preseason win against the New Orleans Saints. As the Ravens head into this week's practices and second preseason game in Carolina, Proche will be looking to make a statement.
"Of course I'm anxious," Proche said. "When you put in all this work … In the summer, getting up at 4:30, working out at 11, working out at 1, working out at 5, it's all for the game. So, you kind of pray and hope that work comes to fruition.
"I'm so excited. I get paid to play football. It's crazy. So, I'm blessed, and I'm grateful."