Versatility is the calling card of the Oregon Ducks football program. Multi-threat athletes are at every position, giving the Ducks a huge advantage on the gridiron. Oregon football is recognized for its quarterbacks of the past such as Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas, and Marcus Mariota and their ability to fool defenses with a very diverse running and passing attack.
Year in and year out, Oregon showcases top tier speed at the skill positions, with players of the past such as Miami Dolphins running back LaMichael James setting the mold for current stars such as Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner. These players are homerun threats on every snap of the football, forcing defenders to keep an eye on the backfield at all times.
It is not uncommon to see two-sport athletes for the Ducks, as several have the speed to compete for the two-time defending National Champion Oregon Ducks Track & Field team. This includes last year’s 110-meter hurdles national champion Devon Allen and promising redshirt freshman running back Tony Brooks-James.
Brooks-James spent the 2014 football season as a redshirt, preserving a year of eligibility while competing for the track & field team. He ran the lead leg of the 4×100 team that posted the third fastest relay time in school history and also ran a season best 10.59 seconds in the 100-meter dash. In football, he distinguished himself by being named the 2014 Oregon Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year.
Oregon is deep at the running back position, with Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year Royce Freeman coming off Oregon’s first true freshman 1000 yard rushing season, along with standouts Thomas Tyner and the aforementioned Marshall. With Marshall seemingly transitioning to wide receiver full-time, the Ducks coaching staff, which is known for carrying multiple running backs, will look to James for extra support.
Oregon’s lightning tempo on offense and creative play calling often calls for help from everyone on the depth chart, as is apparent looking at last season’s team statistics. The Ducks had seven players with more than 100 yards rushing last season, and nine players with over 100 yards receiving.
In high school, James had a stellar senior season, averaging 7.2 yards per carry while rushing for 1,242 yards and 9 touchdowns. His big play ability fits perfectly in Oregon’s offense, and the potential is there for him to impact games out of the backfield.
While his senior year numbers demonstrate his ability to shoulder a hefty workload, coming off the bench and playing in rotation will allow Brooks-James to stay fresh and capitalize on in-game opportunities. The coaching staff will look to keep stars Freeman and Tyner healthy for another play-off push, and Brooks-James is more than capable of keeping the chains moving with his blistering speed.
“When Tony takes off with it, you can tell he can run,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “Now is his time to shine and I hope he grabs his opportunity.”
Brooks-James committed to Oregon out of Florida, a move also made by current Oregon football player and track & field runner Charles Nelson, who is drawing plenty of attention this off-season for making the switch from offense to defense.
While Brooks-James is not planning on switching to defense anytime soon, I can see him being used in many different aspects within this explosive offense. Nelson serves as one example of a player finding success all over the field, and James would like to see himself viewed as the same type of threat to opposing teams.
“My goal is to simply be the best person I can, on and off the field,” said James. “Regardless of any sport.”
Word to the wise: keep an eye out for Tony Brooks-James in 2015.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove