LaMichael James (eDuck file)
When talking to LaMichael James, one should expect to hear some reoccurring themes – teamwork, hard work, and effort. The Oregon Ducks Heisman Trophy candidate is the first person to tell you that he is just part of the package. The offensive line, quarterback, receivers, coaches and even the Duck defense has as much to do with his success as he does.
“I wouldn’t be anything without my teammates,” claims LaMichael James, the Ducks’ leading rusher and a potential Heisman Trophy winner. “I wish there was a team Heisman trophy…they are just as much involved as I am in being a Heisman candidate.”
So far this season, James has run roughshod over the opposition to the tune of 172.9 yards per game. He’s crossed the goal line 14 times running the ball and once on a pass reception. The soft-spoken Texan, has shredded the defenses of seven teams (it would have been eight except for the fact he had to sit out the first game of the season due to an off-season incident), and he leads the nation in rushing. All of this has helped the Ducks to the No. ranking in the BCS standings as Oregon sports a 8-0 record (5-0 in Pac-10 play.) With all the attention James has received, it might be easy for a young man to consider his accomplishments but when asked about it, James is team-first sort of guy.
“It really starts up front and it has a lot to do with the receivers too and the defense for getting stops for us,” said James of how his team gets things done. “It really is a team effort. The way Darron (Thomas) is throwing the ball right now, you really can’t key on me because he can throw and run.”
Thomas, a fellow Texan has been sensational for Oregon, throwing 21 touchdowns and averaging 228.4 ypg this season. The pair are so dynamic in the backfield that television cameramen are often tricked when the ball is seemingly handed off and track the wrong guy. Thomas also has 38.9-ypg average with two touchdown runs so far this season.
All season long the attention on Oregon has grown as observers marvel at the speed at which the Ducks run Chip Kelly’s spread offense. With average drives lasting around a minute and a half, opposing defenders and their coaches are winded just trying to keep up with the pace. Oregon is scoring an average of 54.9 ppg, and it seems as though the Ducks only have one speed on the field – full out.
So far this season the Ducks have 39 plays from scrimmage of 25 yards or longer, 20 of 40 or more yards, six of 60 or more yards and three of 70-plus yards. Of the 39 big plays, 22 have resulted in touchdowns. No matter how humble James might be, the fact is he has been the guy carrying to ball in 13 of those plays of which seven were touchdowns. To James though, it is all about team and effort.
“All the plays standout because you have to give 110 percent,” responded James to the question of which plays standout this season. “We have made a lot of plays.”
James sat out the first game of the season, but since then he has been the work horse carrying the ball a total of 170 times or just over 24 times a game. His best friend running back Kenjon Barner was knocked out of action in the Washington State game about a month ago, so naturally folks wonder how is James holding up with so many carries.
“My legs feel good,” commented James on his health.” Compared to last year they feel a lot better because I know the game a lot more and I got a lot stronger in the off-season, that really helped and being in shape.
“I feel really blessed; someone is looking out for me because I’m never really sore. Nothing ever really hurts. I feel pretty much good especially now I really feel good.”
The talented running back admits that the main reason for his good health is a sustaining fitness program Oregon Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim Radcliffe prescribed for James. That meant a lot of running in the many hills surrounding Eugene and if not in the hills, then the steps at Autzen Stadium.
Eugene is known as Tracktown USA, because of the success of University of Oregon Track and Field. One of the immortals of Oregon track lore is the late Steve Prefontaine, the distance runner that held many distance records, known as a fierce competitor and someone that just would not give up. Prefontaine has been the subject of books and films died in an automobile accident in 1975, long before James was even born. Prefontaine’s legend continues to inspire athletes, even those playing on the gridiron.
When James first came to Oregon, the coaching staff took the team to spot where Prefontaine was killed in an auto accident to illustrate a point about what it means to be a Duck. James thinks the lesson of hard work and competitiveness still holds true today.
“We went up to the place where the accident happened,” revealed James.” Coach Rad (Radcliffe) told us the story. It is a touching story. He (Prefontaine) never gave up, he always gave 110 percent.”
That same type of determination and work ethic that Prefontaine demonstrated has found a kindred soul in James. Even though he is now being called a Heisman hopeful, James’ dreams lie elsewhere – he wants to become an academic all-American.
“That is my No. 1 goal, it is something I have control over,” admitted James in his desire to do well in school. “I don’t have any control over the Heisman Trophy that is something the voters have to vote for…The most important thing to me is my teammates and going out and playing hard, each and every down, for them, not just for some trophy. I’ll worry about that stuff after the season. If it happens it happens, but right now my whole focus is becoming an academic all-American and winning games.”
When he’s on the field though, James is, simply put a tough guy. Opponents are well aware that one slip on a defensive assignment and James can be off to the endzone. During the spring James participated in both indoor and outdoor track, running sprints and on the relay teams. His breakaway speed well demonstrates he has what it takes physically to create distance between him and would be tacklers. He also has a little bit of a temper. During the season there have been moments when opposing defenses have been a little more rough than necessary. James, is not much of a talker, and he would rather respond by what he can do with the football.
“I kind of like it when it happens,” James says when someone gets a little tough with him in a game. ”I really am an intensive player. I’m not one of those trash-talking guys, it’s something I don’t do, but it really gets me going. If you’re going to do that to me then I’m probably going to start running harder…So it’s kind of cool when it happens.”
Coming to Eugene from Texarkana, Texas, James had the choice of several different football programs. He chose Oregon and even though he had to initially overcome some homesickness, he has no regrets about becoming a Duck, and what are the reasons for that? Well, it doesn’t take long to hear one theme in particular being mentioned again – team. If a recruit were to ask him about playing at Oregon, James quickly gets back to that team thing.
“It’s great to come here and play,” said James about playing at Oregon.” The fan base is really good, the community is very good. Life in Oregon is good. It’s really a family event especially on the team. I think I enjoy being on the team because nobody is above each other. Everybody plays as a team. There are no superstars on the team.”
Perhaps an outside observer might point out that there is at least one superstar on this team, and that is LaMichael James. The man himself though, just as quickly says he’s just one of the many parts that make up the Oregon Ducks.