Whether he’s decided or not, announced or not, confirmed by a reliable source or not, LaMichael James is probably leaving for the NFL after the Rose Bowl. And he should.
The average career of an NFL running back is 2.57 years, and even a great college runner like LaMichael is one major injury away from being unemployable. James, the all-time leading rusher in Oregon history, fourth ever in the PAC-12, and the only one in conference history to rush for more than 1500 yards in three straight seasons, has nothing left to prove at the college level.
Photo right: LaMichael James runs to daylight, something he found a lot of in a brilliant Oregon career (abc.com photo).
He got stronger this year, returned punts, and showed he could catch passes out of the backfield. According to cfbstats.com, he had 16 touches of 30 or more yards this season, 11 of more than 40 yards, and 6 of more than 50. He’s explosive. He has surprising power between the tackles, and finishes runs moving the pile forward. He’s tough, resilient, and a great team player.
LaMichael James is the greatest Oregon player of all time. And he’ll be a great pro. Whether he announces this week or after the Rose Bowl, it’s not unexpected and thoroughly logical that he does so. The firestorm touched off by Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian, citing an unnamed source in the athletic department, is not a distraction for his team, and neither is it particularly earth-shattering news. Everyone expects him to leave, wanting the best for him. Duck fans wish him well.
James will be missed, because he’s a warrior, a leader by example and a superlative talent. The running back position at Oregon is in good hands, however. Gary Campbell does a magnificent job of teaching his ball carriers, and there is a long string of 1000-yard backs in Eugene, a half dozen of which are in the pros. Next year’s offensive line will be big and athletic, with four very talented redshirt freshmen joining the rotation. Kenjon Barner returns, and he’s rushed for 909 yards this year, and freshmen De’Anthony Thomas has already flashed his game-breaking ability, although he must improve his ball security.
Freshman Tra Carson proved capable in mop up duty, with 254 yards and 5.6-yard average. At 6-1, 227 pounds he has the power to add another dimension to the running game, spelling Barner and The Black Momba. Incoming verbal commit Byron Marshall also has a nice package of skills, good hands out of the backfield, 4.4 speed, and the uncommon strength to squat 510 pounds as a high school senior. The Ducks are still competing for the services of two other great high school backs, Trey Williams of Texas and D.J. Foster of Arizona. James’ decision opens the window a little wider for one of them, increasing the likelihood of early playing time, always appealing to an elite recruit.
The news story and its resulting denials and confirmations will sort itself out. It’s James’ decision, and he has every right to make it on his own timetable. The greatest likelihood is that he’ll go. It would be a fitting tribute if he could win the Rose Bowl and the Rose Bowl MVP Trophy, rush for 125 or more yards to reach second on all the all-time PAC-12 leaderboard.
It’s been a thrill to watch him run. Here’s hoping his last performance is a fitting, sweet climax to all that he’s accomplished as a college football player. Duck fans would like to hear Jerry Allen make one last big LaMichael James touchdown call, hear him say, “Good-bye LaMichael James, and thanks for one more great memory.”