LaMichael & the LaDynasty he created

As we say goodbye to the greatest running back in Oregon Ducks history, I wanted to talk about what a significant role LaMichael James has played in Oregon becoming the college football dynasty it is today.  Hold on one sec, if you are reading this and thinking “Oregon’s a Dynasty… what is that crazed O-TIME guy blabbing about?”  Let me remind you that winning back-to-back-to-back PAC10/12 Championships, with only two conference losses in three years and three consecutive BCS Games (The Rose Bowl, Natty, and Rose Bowl again) would absolutely be considered a dynasty.

In fact, Oregon is the only program in the country that can boast such a feat, playing in three consecutive BCS games.  Not LSU, not Alabama, not Ohio State or Oklahoma or any other program can claim a 3-peat in BCS appearances.

I digress though, as after Blount threw the infamous punch heard ’round the worldon opening day of the 2009 season, as a fan I felt like “great, there goes our Heisman hopeful this year, season is over the first game…who does Oregon have that could ever step up and fill his shoes?” There wasn’t much to know of what LaMichael James was going to be capable of nor what he would turn into, there had been rumors of this young kid from Texas scorching the Oregon defense in practice, but as a redshirt in 2008 only those in attendance at practice and players/coaches had any idea of what James could actually do given the chance to perform.

LaMichael's smile, personality, and enthusiasm was infectious on and off the field at Oregon

Watching him develop early in the season finding his feet against Purdue, and then Utah, the team was being carried largely by its defense, in particular Walter Thurmond III who had two pick six interceptions, but there was uncertainty as to how the rest of the year might play out.

Then came September 26th, 2009, and the proverbial lightswitch was officially flipped on. Then #6-ranked Cal came to Autzen Stadium sporting a Heisman candidate at running back of their own (Jahvid Best), with many assuming Cal was going to run all over the Ducks struggling to find their new identity with LeGarrette Blount on indefinite suspension.  The exact opposite occurred, Oregon came alive in epic fashion, completely manhandling Cal in every way imaginable, when the dust settled Oregon had beaten Cal 42-3, and LaMichael James was without question Oregon’s next superstar.

James seemed to get better with every game, and out of nowhere we all felt something special was in the air. There was a new confidence with the team, behind the running prowess of LaMichael James and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

It was the same sneaking suspicion we all had been feeling back in 2007. The game against Houston to open the season that year had mixed results, but after the second game (a destruction of Michigan in the Big House 39-7) it was clear that Oregon was an unstoppable force that year.  If only Dixon’s knee had stayed intact who knows what heights Oregon might have reached that season, and again in 2009 after the early misstep it now seemed like the Ducks could not be stopped.

Oregon was on the cusp of greatness, and it wasn’t exclusively a two-person show, or a Joey-type of year where the football synergy somehow willed the team to victory. Oregon was a team that was capable of dominating at every position, and what was even crazier, we had a freshmen running back who was leading the PAC-10 in rushing yards. After LaMichael’s famous 54-yard touchdown run in the Civil War with the Rose Bowl on the line, it was apparent that he was no fluke and that this kid was seriously about to be something special.

LaMichael James sprints down the sidelines for a back-breaking TD vs. Oregon State


Ultimately, Oregon has never really struggled for amazing running backs, particularly in the last two decades as the program’s success followed suit, but to have a QB-like leader at the running back position who is willing to sacrifice himself for the better of the team, man I tell you what, if I were an NFL scout I’d want him on my team for no other reason than to just the moral lift and lead by example.

What LaMichael James has done here at the University of Oregon is nothing short of legendary, and historic. He has been the poster child for the new era in college football, leading the team to greatness as the posterchild of the program. Oregon was once a team laughed at, is now a team feared, a team that has literally changed the entire landscape of college football, and LaMichael James has been the tip of spear for that change. I couldn’t be prouder, couldn’t be more grateful, couldn’t be more excited for him!

While Oregon does have a rich history of individual performances and great athletes, the trophy cases at the Casanova Center remained noticeably bare.  With LaMichael’s departure from Eugene, he leaves behind a Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, and a Rose Bowl trophy.  In the record books there is an appearance in the national championship for the first time in program history, and on an individual level James is the only player in Pacific Conference history to have three 1,500 yard rushing seasons.

Think of all the greats that have played on the west coast for the past hundred years, none have accomplished what LaMichael James did in an Oregon uniform.  If he had returned for his senior year, he needed only 1,300 yards to surpass Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne to become #1 in the all-time record books for career rushing yards.  Barring injury, he surely would have accomplished it.

LaMichael James, on behalf of every Oregon Duck past or present, thank you for making Eugene and the U of O your home for the past four years. Thank you for sticking it out even when going home to Texas felt easier, and being home sick was almost too much to bare, thank you for staying. Twice Running Backs Coach Gary Campbell had to talk LaMichael James back from the brink of leaving, but now we wish nothing but the best and understand and support the decision to leave.

Our last memories of LaMichael James in an Oregon uniform shall always be that of going out as a true champion

Thank you LaMichael James for choosing to persevere despite hardship, leading this team to another incredible season. Thank you for stunning us all and forever proving that nobody can ever question your toughness after nonchalantly popping a dislocated elbow back into place on the field as if it was nothing…

Thank you for taking the time to do the little things no one sees and no one reads about, like signing autographs for kids like Austin Gibbs, stricken with Cystic Fibrosis, then humoring his father Jamie by signing his truck in the parking lot of the Mo Center after practice.  Thank you for being someone humble, and transparent. You are the epitome of Coach Kelly’s motto, Win The Day. Bless you LaMike, and spend your money wisely, you’ve earned it!

Duck Fans, below in the comment section I’d like to encourage you to write in your favorite personal memory of LaMichael James, on the field or off of it. It can be a play, or a quote, or a moment; whatever stands out the most to you over the previous four years. Please keep it positive and uplifting, there is after all so much good LaMichael brought to the program and the community.

Thank you again LaMichael for such an incredible career here at Oregon, go WTD in the pros my friend, it’s great to see you end your career as a Rose Bowl Champion!


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Jared Sawyer

Jared Sawyer

Jared Sawyer was born in Eugene and grew up going to games at Auzten Stadium. He has been an avid Duck Fan his entire life, and has recently taken his passion to filmmaking, VLOGing and writing for the Ducks. Jared now resides in San Diego, California where his passion still thrives for the Ducks,and he would like to remind you--It's O TIME!

  • Kalon Jelen

    Jared, thank you. LMJ is in my mind the best Duck in the history of the football program, and just an incredible person. I hope he has the greatest success in whatever he chooses to do going forward. 

    The easy one to pick is the Stanford score in 2010, at the end of the game, where he jumped into everyone’s minds as a Heisman candidate and looked absurdly fast, but that’s a really easy pick. I think my real favorite was the first big run against Cal where it didn’t look like anyone could even tackle him:

    He’s a human highlight reel and there are tons of great memories over the last three years, but this was when I first sat up and really took notice of how great he was. 

  • Kyle W.

    It’s hard to pick just one memory of LaMichael but if I had to pick one play, it’s certainly the run against Tennessee after serving his 1-game suspension. His 72 yard run had the announcer anticipating that he would go down about 3 times and he just kept going until he found the end-zone. But beyond all that…what LMJ will be remembered for in my house is his unwavering loyalty to his team and his humility. He repeated many times that he was not interested in individual awards, but simply, the success of his team. He never wavered from that stance (momentarily being excited about being an academic all-american….and who can blame him?). He is what every college player should strive to be and I look forward to getting his pro jersey and watching him play on Sunday.

  • Kj_oregon

    Most memorable play: Tennessee.
    Most human moment: Barner’s injury
    Best memory: standing outside of the Hyatt at the Rose Bowl, watching him sign autographs. My mom said “kinda hard being famous huh?” he smiled and just started chatting with her about what we were doing that night.
    Biggest regret: Not interrupting their conversation and simply saying “Thank You!!”

  • Chris G

    I remember the run at Tennesse. That is my favorite run of his. He may be small but he plays BIG!! Glad I could see such a great running back in person. Can’t put into words what I feel but gonna miss that guy!! Glad Blount punched that guy!!

  • Mark Flores

    LMG21 – So many memories but the one that stands out in my mind was during the 2009 Civil War . With 1:29 left in the 3rd Quarter, LMJ took a sweep between the line to the left and exploded for a 52 yard sideline TD run to give OUR DUCKS a commanding lead, effectively sealing the win that sent OUR DUCKS to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 94′. 

    (At about 5:45 into the video, LMJ takes the hand-off from Masoli and scampers down the sideline, when the camera pulls away once he crosses the endzone, I can be seen in the front row of SECTION 19 with a GREEN DUCK HOODIE. WTD!!!)