Former LSU Football Player and Current PhD Candidate James Stampley Tackles Aging and Metabolism
January 28, 2022
LSU PhD candidate James Stampley has taken his passion for health and fitness and turned it into a research focus. In this episode, Stampley shares his journey from collegiate athletics and his touchdown against Ole Miss, to the lab where he is exercise training fruit flies for research into aging and metabolic diseases.
James Stampley IV is a former LSU Football player with two bachelor’s degrees, and is currently pursuing a PhD in the Kinesiology program, specializing in Exercise Physiology. His research is focused on metabolism and the role that exercise can play on aging and metabolic diseases. His current project includes exercise training fruit flies and measuring their metabolic adaptations. This idea was developed with his advisor Dr. Brian Irving, as they looked for novel methods of continuing research during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to his academic focus, he is still a competitive athlete – having recently won two gold medals in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu national tournament last year.
[00:00:11] President William F. Tate IV: Welcome to "On Par with the President." Today, we are joined by former LSU football player and current PhD candidate, James Stampley. Stampley already holds two bachelor's degrees from LSU in psychology and kinesiology. And he's currently a Kinesiology PhD candidate with a focus on Exercise Physiology. "On Par with the President" is a podcast that highlights LSU community members who are doing great things. A golfer who can play par golf is at the very top of the game. And so the whole point of this podcast is to talk to extraordinary members of the LSU community. We're going to tee off. You're originally from Baton Rouge. What is it like to be a member of the football team and to earn a degree from LSU in light of the fact that you're a native of the city.
[00:01:04] James Stampley IV: It's been huge to be able to get some bachelors degrees from LSU and, uh, play ball at LSU. Uh, growing up here, LSU is the biggest thing, you know, the only thing that's bigger than LSU would probably be the Saints here in Louisiana. And so for me to be a part of the team and to also continue my education, it's been a dream and I've been loving every second of it.
[00:01:29] President William F. Tate IV: And we're going to give you your due. You earned two undergraduate degrees from LSU. That's an impressive feat. Most people struggle getting one. How did you balance your time as a scholar and a student athlete?
[00:01:45] James Stampley IV: Well, I'll tell you this. It wasn't without its trial and error. I feel like as a student athlete, one of the biggest challenges that you face is how to effectively balance your time between being an athlete, a competitive athlete, but also being a competitive student as well. You're essentially having this full time job, but also you still have to earn really good grades, because at the end of the day, we're all students. It took some, um, experimentation, um, with how much time I allotted to one thing compared to the other. But I eventually found that balance, and I feel like that's the key.
[00:02:23] President William F. Tate IV: Well, you're currently working on a PhD in Exercise Physiology. Why did you make the decision to engage in further education and what do you hope to accomplish with your newfound research findings and great education you're receiving here at LSU?
[00:02:41] James Stampley IV: I'm glad you asked. I've always been a bit of an overachiever and so I've always, and I've always had a mind for, um, for science. I originally got my psychology degree first while I was playing. Years later, I had the epiphany that my other passion has always been fitness and health. And so I felt like it was a natural progression for me to go to kinesiology next. I just wanted to further my knowledge with, uh, exercise to see how that could benefit me, originally. But then the more I was in the field, the more I saw the other side of it from just the general health perspective. I really realized that there was this gap in knowledge. And so I started transitioning my thinking to wanting to apply my knowledge and my research to benefit people on a, I guess, a more global scale, to help your average, everyday person become more equipped with the knowledge that they would need to live a healthy, fulfilling life. So that's kind of how I made that transition over to kinesiology.
[00:03:50] President William F. Tate IV: Wonderful. So your transition involves research and your research centers on metabolism and the role that exercise can play in aging. How are you conducting this research and what do you hope to learn in light of your goals that you just talked about?
[00:04:07] James Stampley IV: So metabolism, that's one of the things that, um, stood out to me immediately that I was really interested in. And one of the people that I can thank for steering me in that direction is my current advisor, Dr. Brian Irving. When I came back to get my Kinesiology degree, he was my exercise physiology professor. And so I was still fresh in the field trying to figure out what I was interested in. We had this lecture and he went into details about what he researched. It clicked for me. That's what I wanted to do. Like I was interested in metabolism and how it worked. I just reached out to him and let him know that I wanted to continue research with him in metabolism.
[00:04:50] And so that's how, that's how it kinda got started. He has a study currently ongoing where he's working on different training methods with older individuals to see what methods get them in the best shape. So we know like there are a lot of people that suffer from like cardio-metabolic disorders, but to actually work with older individuals and kind of show them how to effectively train and to see them progress, it's really helped me develop more of a passion for it. And as far as my, uh, studies go, right now, I'm currently working on a method to where we can exercise train fruit flies. It's interesting because a lot of people, they wonder like, okay, fruit flies, like that's quite a turn from like exercising people. It came about for a number of different reasons. The first being, um, during this pandemic, it presents some interesting challenges with, um, recruiting and conducting research safely on human subjects. With fruit flies, you know, there's not that much risk to me.
[00:06:06] President William F. Tate IV: You're not worried about getting COVID from a fruit fly.
[00:06:08] James Stampley IV: I'm not worried about it whatsoever,
[00:06:11] President William F. Tate IV: Yeah. I gotcha.
[00:06:12] James Stampley IV: But also it allows us opportunity to kind of work on the basic science on some of the things that we want to learn. And so what I'm doing is, um, exercise training the flies. At this point, I've become quite a name in the fly community as a personal trainer. So, if you or a friend know any flies that are looking to get in the best shape of their life, I'm definitely the guy to get in touch with.
[00:06:37] President William F. Tate IV: Gotcha. So let me ask you. You don't get to do research unless you have a great mentor. It doesn't work that way. You don't, you know, you can go at home and play with a chemistry set or something like that. But when you're, you're talking about funded research, you have to have a mentor. Talk to me a little bit about, um, the comradery in your program and what is it like to work closely with an advisor or a mentor?
[00:07:01] James Stampley IV: It's been a real blessing to be a part of this program. I think that Dr. Solmon has done a fantastic job at, um, really making the department feel more like a family. And that's how it feels, especially so in the exercise physiology department. So my advisor is Dr. Irving, but I also work with Dr. Guillaume Spielmann, Dr. Neil Johannsen, Dr. Allaway. You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? So it's kind of like the same method. I'm learning from everyone. And so I get different perspectives on different subjects, and it all just helps build me into a better researcher. So in that sense, it kind of feels like being back on the football team. It's this big family environment, and we all just want to do good. The better I do the better they do.
[00:07:56] President William F. Tate IV: Now as a football player, you had a very interesting trajectory in the sense that you walked on, and then you earned a scholarship, and then you move to be a starter at fullback, you know, talk to us a little bit about that journey. How did you make that happen? How did all that work out?
[00:08:12] James Stampley IV: I originally came to LSU as just a student. Not many people know this, but I originally, didn't have any intentions on playing football at LSU. I went to a small 3A high school, um, Baker High. I was one of the strongest people at the school, but we had a shortage of big bodies for the football team. So with my strength, they kind of figured I'd do well on the offensive line. Now in high school, I was all of 200 to 210 pounds playing center. I did well for myself, but when I made the decision to come to LSU, I knew I wasn't gonna play center at LSU. I just didn't have the frame for it. So I kinda just convinced myself that it probably wouldn't happen.
[00:09:00] And then I got to know some of the football players and they convinced me to walk on. I decided that the position that I could play effectively would be fullback, because it's kind of a hybrid position between a lineman and a running back, especially the way we played it. And so I just walked on, um, got in touch with the running back coach, told him I was interested in playing fullback. I actually started on the team during spring. For some strange reason, we had a lot of injuries to the fullbacks that spring. So at one point I was the sole fullback during all the spring football. It was to the point to where we had the spring game and I played fullback for both teams. I would like go out there for the offense on one team. And then when they switched to defense, I would change my jersey on the sideline and go out there for the other team. Safe to say that was a rough game for me.
[00:09:55] President William F. Tate IV: I can imagine. I can imagine that.
[00:10:00] James Stampley IV: It was a rough game. But, uh, I think I really opened some eyes and impressed some people about like my tenacity for the position. And so that next season, um, I got invited to camp and they actually gave me the starting position after my first spring. And I had a really good season. The next season came along. I performed well again. I showed up to the building one day and then one of the coaches came and found me. And he was telling me that Coach Miles, who was the head coach at the time, he wanted to see me in his office. And so I get in there and, you know, he looks me up and down, talks to me a little bit, and he was like, "well, how would you feel about being put on scholarship?" And I was speechless. I'm typically a person that always has something to say. I'm just chatty like that. But I had nothing for that moment. And it was, it was a high point.
[00:10:58] President William F. Tate IV: So talk to me about some of your other high points. We want to hear about some of the other things that happened to you during your time on the football team that you would say, "it was like the highlight of my experience."
[00:11:08] James Stampley IV: Oh, there are so many stories on that one. Okay. I'll start with one. It's a funny story, slightly embarrassing, but funny. Um, I have the reputation as one of the hardest hitters at LSU. I was notorious for going through face masks and helmets. So we had gotten this, um, helmet that I think it was more in its prototype period? Like, it wasn't out there yet, so we kind of wanted to test it out and see how it worked. I'm like the prime candidate for something like that. And so the way it worked was it had all these sort of airbags in the helmet. And so on contact, they would, you know, do what airbags do. They would like inflate. It was a very neat helmet. The issue with the helmet was the surface of them got really slippery when you would sweat.
[00:12:03] So the helmet would slide on my head. So I would go in make blocks and it'd slide down. And so the airbags started hitting me in the eye. And so eventually my eye just swelled up, like in camp, like it looked like I lost the fight. This happened at the worst time because we had a media day. And so we had to go out there, sign posters, meet the fans, and I had this huge black eye. They gave me some shades to wear during the media day. And so I'm sitting there signing posters and everyone's calling me Hollywood because it's like, I have these shades on. And so I see my mom and my mom is looking at me like, "What are you doing? Why you have on shades?" And so I lift my glasses so she could see, and the look on her face was priceless. I had to assure her that I was okay and that no one put hands on me. But it was that, that initial shock was hilarious.
[00:13:03] President William F. Tate IV: So needless to say, you, you did not want to be subject to any more experiments. That was it for you,huh?
[00:13:08] James Stampley IV: Yeah, I was okay with the experimental helmets at that point. But one of my greatest accomplishments was when I got my first and only touchdown against Ole Miss. The way we played fullback back then, and the way I played it was, I wanted to make the position my own. So I was less of a fullback, and I was what I would call myself an offensive linebacker. I was one of those people that, "put me in coach, who you want me to take out? I'm going for him." Like I was that guy. We were doing really well in this game. This was my senior year. And we got there to the goal line and they call, uh, a fullback running play, and I was in. I'm like, "Oh, okay. They're about to switch me out." They were like, "No, you're doing it." And I was like, "Okay, we'll do it then." And so it took me a couple attempts, but I got in that end zone. And that, it's kind of hard to put that one into words. It was a great feeling, and I really enjoyed it. And that, that lives on forever for me.
[00:14:15] President William F. Tate IV: Thank you for sharing that. You mentioned being a hard hitter. They tell me you broke 30 face masks and even a helmet while you were playing. Who do you credit with giving you the great lessons on leveraging your force and physicality?
[00:14:30] James Stampley IV: I was always told that, especially in football, if you're not the hammer you're the nail. And I picked early in life to not be the nail. But one of the people that helped me develop as a fullback/offensive linebacker was my coach, Coach Frank Wilson. He was a phenomenal coach, and he taught me plenty of things on the field, but also a lot off the field. And he was just a great role model, and he just helped me really learn to play that position, because it's a lot different than being a running back, uh, especially with the way we played it. You're essentially going into combat every time you step on that field, cause you're going to take someone out. And so he just helped develop that warrior mentality when I'm on the field. I blame him for some of those masks that I broke.
[00:15:23] President William F. Tate IV: Well, I'm very excited that Coach Wilson is back.
[00:15:25] James Stampley IV: Yep.
[00:15:26] President William F. Tate IV: Back here at LSU, uh, bleeding, the purple and gold. And I know he's going to do great things with our new coach. So it's exciting
[00:15:34] James Stampley IV: I'm excited for the, for the players who get to learn under him, because as much of a good mentor and coach as he is, he's also just a great person in general. He's hilarious. He made work feel not as intimidating as it is. I'm looking forward to seeing, seeing him back in action here at LSU.
[00:15:55] President William F. Tate IV: Let's talk a bit about how you're funded. So one of the things that's important in, in grad education is the funding. You have a economic development assistantship for research that was funded to really impact the economic situation here in the state of Louisiana, your home, your home state. What does that mean to you as a native of the state?
[00:16:20] James Stampley IV: Cardio-metabolic diseases, they're, they're a big thing down here, and they cost a lot in healthcare because of that. You'd see it all the time. Like, uh, just people around you, friends, family members that, you know, suffer in some aspect because of it. One of the things that I would like to do with my research is just to be able to put us in a better position to where people have the knowledge to be able to make the decisions to, you know, lead a healthier life to where, you know, that wouldn't affect the economy as much as it does. But, also, just because I want everyone to be able to enjoy health as long as they can, because you know, we're living longer. And so, I want us to be able to enjoy that extension on life, but be healthy and capable as well.
[00:17:09] President William F. Tate IV: So how do you think science and scientists can better, do a better job of communicating their ideas and making them accessible to the general public?
[00:17:18] James Stampley IV: I think that's an interesting question. And I think that stems from people's innate desire to seek something familiar. With familiar comes security comes comfort. Were we to have people in research positions that were to be familiar to other people. So like, if you had people in there who you can identify with, whether that be someone, um, in a minority or someone who has different sexual preferences. To see people in these positions, conducting research, communicating what they are learning, I feel like that makes people more comfortable with the research. I feel like that helps people digest and absorb, um, the knowledge so much more. And I also think that, that starts with the education. If you have, you know, children that see people in these positions as well, it motivates them to want to try to strive and achieve it. They don't cap themselves as thinking that that's not something that they can accomplish. You know, I'm a firm believer of lead by example. And so that's why I try to live a life that people would want to try to accomplish, and do the things that I do.
[00:18:37] President William F. Tate IV: What are you most proud of in terms of the work you've been doing?
[00:18:42] James Stampley IV: The thing that I feel like, and this could be a cop out answer, but it's not a cop out answer, I promise. The thing that I'm most proud of is the fact that I haven't grown complacent, and I'm still ambitious. Because the way I see it is that I've accomplished a lot in life. I don't think my greatest accomplishment is behind me yet. I think I have many more accomplishments ahead of me. And I feel like the greatest one is yet to come. That being said, you know, this PhD pans out, and once I actually get that, that will be really high up there to actually have that in my, uh, have that notch on my belt. I feel happy that I'm still ambitious and I have that desire to want to continue to accomplish. Like, I'm proud that I haven't lost that. And so I just want to keep going and see what all I can do.
[00:19:36] President William F. Tate IV: How important was it for you to continue your PhD studies here at LSU?
[00:19:41] James Stampley IV: Oh, I love it I feel like, um, I definitely bleed purple and gold at this point. There's a streak of it somewhere on the practice fields out there at LSU. But it's, um, it's been huge. Born and raised here in Louisiana. I feel like I've been extremely blessed to be able to continue my education here as well and be surrounded by family and friends who I've known most of my life.
[00:20:08] President William F. Tate IV: It's come to my attention that in addition to your academic focus, you're, you're still a competitive athlete. You recently won two gold medals in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a national tournament. How did you become interested in Jiu Jitsu and how does your football background help you with that?
[00:20:26] James Stampley IV: So I've always had this love of martial arts ever since I was a kid. So once I was finally finished with football, I decided now would be the perfect time to indulge in martial arts, you know, my other interest. It's one of those things that I tell people, it's like, "You can take the tiger off the field, but you can't take the field out of the tiger." I never lost that competitive drive, and you can see it in my research. Like I'm always trying to, like, I'm trying to be the best at what I'm doing. It gives me another avenue to use some of that competitive energy, and it gives me something that I can compete in for the rest of my life, because there really isn't like an age cap on how long you can compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I think that's one of the things that keeps us young is that you always have something that you're striving to achieve, so you'll continue to make yourself grow and improve so you can continue to pursue whatever that passion is.
[00:21:26] President William F. Tate IV: Well James, I'm excited that you brought your intellect and competitive spirit to the world of science, and that you're adding value to science here in the state of Louisiana and right here at LSU. It's a tremendous honor to spend this time with you. And, um, I hope that you complete your PhD studies during my tenure as president, so I can be there at the graduation to celebrate with you and your family, um, your great story. And, um, you're adding a lot of value to our enterprise here. And thank you for the time. Um, we wish you the very best with your research. And I did not ask you when you were going to graduate. So, that's the number one rule with PhD students. Don't ask them that question. Just keep publishing. Crank it out.
[00:22:12] James Stampley IV: I'm so glad that, I'm so glad that you didn't.
[00:22:17] President William F. Tate IV: All right. Thank you so much.
[00:22:18] James Stampley IV: Oh, thank you for having me.
[00:22:20] President William F. Tate IV: Take care