21 days to Oregon football: LaMichael James, #21

Running back LaMichael James sprints after catching a pass from quarterback Darron Thomas during Oregon's 2012 NFL Pro Day. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Running back LaMichael James sprints after catching a pass from quarterback Darron Thomas during Oregon's 2012 NFL Pro Day. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Will Rubin on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 5:31 pm.

Even though our goal has been to stay away from players on the 2011 team, we’d be remiss, if not reckless, to ignore arguably the greatest to ever put on the Oregon uniform. LaMichael James stepped onto the Autzen turf in 2009 with the team still reeling from events the past week in Boise and left the field three years later with almost every record a running back can earn. Simply put: Oregon football is not where it is today without the exploits of one LMJ.

James came to Eugene out of Texarkana, Texas after rushing for over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior season. After a redshirt year in 2008, James was competing with Remene Alston and Andre Crenshaw — not to mention a converted defensive back named Kenjon Barner — for carries behind star LeGarrette Blount. After Blount’s infamous blow-up following a loss to Boise State and subsequent suspension, James took the reigns and never looked back.

The 2009 “Fright Night” game against USC was a chance for the rest of the nation to check out the speedy James, and he put on a show to the tune of 183 yards and a touchdown to go along with Oregon’s convincing 47-20 victory over the Trojans. James was also instrumental in the Ducks’ Civil War triumph that year with three rushing touchdowns including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter (5:40 mark).

The 2010 season was when it all came together for James, though not without adversity. Following an incident where James was alleged to have assaulted a female — later plead down to a single misdemeanor (read the sentencing memorandum for more information) — and a suspension for Oregon’s game against New Mexico, James returned to the spotlight against Tennessee with a long run that was replayed on highlight shows across the nation.

James led the nation in rushing (1,731yards) for the 2010 season along with yards-per-game (144.2) and scoring average (12.0). He was a Heisman finalist, won the Doak Walker award — given to the best running back in the country each year — and was a unanimous All-American. The Ducks rode their record-setting running back to the BCS Championship Game where the Auburn Tigers’ defense shut down James’ en route to a last-second victory.

2011 proved to be difficult for James on the field rather than off it. Late in a game against Cal, a freak injury resulted in James’ elbow popping out of its socket. At a post-game press conference, James said that he popped it back in himself on the field and that he’d be back on the field that season. Three games later, James returned and once again played his way to All-American and Doak Walker status.

Despite concerns about his size and endurance, James was selected in the second round (61st overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. His rookie campaign begins next month when the 49ers travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers.