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After quite a rush, James goes pro.

Byline: Rob Moseley The Register-Guard

There was a moment during the Rose Bowl, LaMichael James said Friday in explaining his decision to leave for the NFL, when he thought he'd be making a different choice.

On the heels of two BCS losses, Oregon at times Monday was in danger of losing a third, to Wisconsin in Pasadena. Had that happened, James said, he would have been back with the Ducks for his redshirt senior season next fall.

"It would have affected my decision 100 percent," James said Friday at a press conference. "Because I owe it to my teammates, and I want to go out a winner. I wanted to win a bowl game."

Of course, the Ducks did beat the Badgers. And, on Friday, James announced a decision he's been mulling for a year or more - the greatest career ever by an Oregon football player has come to an end, prematurely.

James, who holds UO records for rushing yards in a game, a single season and a career, intends to hire an agent and make himself available for April's NFL draft. A player whose career was marked by record-setting performances, breath-taking runs but also painful injuries will now be earning a paycheck for taking all that punishment.

"Yesterday it was finally like, hey, I probably should go," James said. "I don't know how many more hits my body could take at this level. I know after the game I was really sore. I don't think I should waste any more at this level."

James' departure brings to a close a career on par with the best players in Ducks history. He was Oregon's first unanimous all-American in 2010, and was named a first-team all-America by two organizations this season.

One of four consensus all-Americans in UO history, James was the first Duck to earn the distinction twice, in 2010 and 2011. Cornerback Cliff Harris was a consensus pick in 2010, as were defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2005 and halfback Mel Renfro in 1962.

"He's certainly one of the best ever, and one of the most explosive," said Mike Bellotti, Oregon's head coach from 1995 through 2008. "I think this offense was perfect for him, and he was a perfect fit for the offense."

James became Oregon's career rushing leader this season with 5,082 yards, passing Derek Loville. With 159 rushing yards in Oregon's Rose Bowl victory Monday, he finished with a school-record 1,805 this season, surpassing the mark of 1,731 he set last year.

A redshirt junior from Texarkana, Texas, James also is Oregon's career leader in all-purpose yards (5,869) and total touchdowns (58). He was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010 and a two-time Doak Walker Award finalist as the nation's best running back, winning as a sophomore to give the Ducks the most prestigious individual award in school history.

"I am 100 percent behind LaMichael," UO coach Chip Kelly said in the statement announcing James departure. "He is a very special person and certainly will be remembered as one of the very best players ever to wear a uniform at the University of Oregon. It has been a pleasure to coach him for the four seasons he has been here and is comforting to know that he will obtain his degree this spring. I could not have asked anymore from him and I am confident he will be a success at the next level."

James said he will take winter term off from the university to prepare for April's draft, while taking some online courses. He said he would then return to school in the spring to complete his degree.

The NFL's draft advisory board told James he figures to be a third-round pick. James said he'll try to improve on that as he begins working out for NFL teams in the coming months.

"Right now I'm looking at the second round, just depending on how I perform," James said.

With his speed, quick feet and diminutive size, James said he hopes to emulate an all-purpose player such as Percy Harvin, who returns kicks, lines up at receiver and even gets some carries at running back for the Minnesota Vikings. James is often cast as a third-down back at the next level, too small to take the pounding of a starting back but offering a change of pace on third down, though that role typically requires better receiving skills than James showed in college.

"It's going to be interesting to see - he's not the biggest guy, and everybody at the next level is bigger, stronger and more importantly faster," Bellotti said. "He's probably going to find a niche. It depends on the style of offense people play. He's not going to be as effective in there pounding it, following a lead back. The spread attack is certainly better for him."

Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell said this was "a big loss for us" but that "I feel good about his decision."

Similarly, Kelly supported the move. In talking with James, Kelly brought up the case of Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles, who returned as a fifth-year senior this past fall and suffered a major knee injury.

"He really didn't want that to happen," said James, who has dealt with major shoulder, elbow and knee injuries the last four years. "He wanted me to come back of course, but if that happened he'd be devastated. And that really stuck with me."

In leaving, James passes up the chance to play with an Oregon football team that returns as much talent and experience as any in recent memory. The Ducks return six starters on offense, including quarterback Darron Thomas, and seven starters on defense from the Rose Bowl team, along with a number of backups who played key roles.

Victory in Pasadena was a suitable final entry in James' collegiate rsum, he said.

"I could win the Heisman or a BCS (championship) game, but that's really just not likely," James said. "I feel like I'm leaving with a bang."

A big-play threat rivaled by few in the country, James ran for 200 yards or more seven times in his career, and in three straight games earlier this season, both UO records. Perhaps no play better personifies his abilities than a 72-yard touchdown at Tennessee in 2010; the run was clutch, giving the Ducks their first lead in the eventual win on the road, and it was breathtaking to watch as James cut back across the field and then outrun the defense to the end zone.

James' prolific 2010 numbers were posted despite his sitting out an opening-game blowout of New Mexico following an offseason arrest stemming from an altercation with a female acquaintance. James has also acknowledged a mentoring relationship with controversial former recruiting service operator Willie Lyles, whose ties to the UO football program are being investigated by the NCAA.

And James has also had some high-profile frustrations on the field, running for just 49 yards on 13 carries against Auburn in the BCS Championship game last January, and 18 times for 54 yards and a touchdown against LSU to open the 2011 season, both losses for the Ducks.

In his swan song in Pasadena on Monday, however, he put those demons to rest with 25 carries for 159 yards and a touchdown.

Now, he's off to the NFL.

"It's a dream come true," James said. "I've thought about it all my life; 'I want to play in the NFL.' Who wouldn't? I'm glad I'm able to come a step closer to accomplishing this goal. But I can't say college wasn't fun. It was great. Hopefully all my teammates think I was a great team player. It's been a wonderful time here."

24

Most touchdownsin a season, 2010

144

Most points scored in a single season, 2010 288

Most rushing yards in a game, Arizona, 2011

1,805

Most rushing yardsin a season, 2011

5,082

Most rushing yardsin a career, 2009-11

PAC-12 CAREER RUSHING LEADERS

Name School Years Yards

1. Charles White USC 1976-79 6,245

2. LaMichael James Oregon 2009-11 5,082

3. Ken Simonton OSU 1998-01 5,044

4. Marcus Allen USC 1978-81 4,810

5. Napoleon Kauffman UW 1991-94 4,106

NCAA CAREER RUSHING LEADERS

Name School Years Yards

1. Ron Dayne Wisconsin 1996-99 6,397

2. Ricky Williams Texas 1995-98 6,279

3. Tony Dorsett Pittsburgh 1973-76 6,082

4. DeAngelo Williams Memphis 2002-05 6,026

5. Charles White USC 1976-79 5,598

6. Travis Prentice Miami (Ohio) 1996-99 5,596

7. Cedric Benson Texas 2001-04 5,540

8. LaDainian Tomlinson TCU 1997-00 5,263

9. Herschel Walker Georgia 1980-82 5,259

10. Archie Griffin Ohio State 1972-75 5,177

11. Avon Cobourne W. Virginia 1999-02 5,164

12. Garrett Wolfe N. Illinois 2004-06 5,164

13. LaMichael James Oregon 2009-11 5,082

14. Mike Hart Michigan 2004-07 5,040

15. Darren Lewis Texas A&M 1987-90 5,012
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Title Annotation:Football Oregon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jan 7, 2012
Words:1491
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