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.
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.
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.
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!