LaMichael James says his focus is on a bowl win
LOS ANGELES - Oregon Ducks running back LaMichael James has accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish in an Oregon uniform. He is the school's all-time leader in rushing (4,923 yards), rushing touchdowns (52) and scoring (342 points). The one thing that has eluded James since becoming the starter in 2009 is a bowl win.
'As far as the records, that stuff doesn't matter,' James says.
James has had his share of individual difficulties in bowl games.
In the 2010 Rose Bowl against Ohio State, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but the Buckeyes held him in check, limiting him to 79 yards on 15 carries, and the Ducks lost 26-17.
In the 2011 national championship game, James was completely shut down, carrying 13 times for 49 yards as the Ducks fell 22-19 to Auburn.
James did not score a touchdown in either game.
Instead, he was standing on the sidelines in critical moments. Against Ohio State, he was receiving treatment on his shoulder when LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball through the back of the end zone, costing Oregon an excellent scoring opportunity. Against Auburn, James was receiving treatment on a dislocated pinky finger when Kenjon Barner was stopped on a goal-line run.
'(In the Rose Bowl), I hurt my shoulder after having a long run, and the next play we fumbled the ball,' James says. 'If I would have been in there, it might have been different, or maybe not. Who knows?
'I think about that and the national championship game. That was a difficult game for all of us. We came back, we battled hard. If I would have got the ball a little more, it would have been a different factor.'
Without a touchdown in the two biggest games of his career, James admits that he is still looking for a bowl game highlight.
'One-hundred percent yes,' James says.
Monday's 2 p.m. Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin may be James' last chance to have a highlight play for the Ducks. There has been widespread speculation that after the season, he will declare for the NFL draft. James has denied that he has made up his mind, but he says that when the season is over, he will consider declaring for the NFL.
'I would be a fool not to consider it,' he says. 'I considered it last year, but that doesn't mean I'm going to leave. It doesn't mean anything. I'm not going to think about that until next week. I have to talk about things like that with my family and see what's the best thing for me.'
James says that it would be unfair to the rest of the team for him to start thinking about the NFL before the final whistle of this season.
'My teammates come out here and practice hard each and every day,' James says. 'So for me to come out and say, 'Hey, I'm going to think about going to the NFL right now' is totally selfish of me, and I'm not going to do that.'
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich sees reasons why James should stay and reasons why he should leave.
'There are so many different ways to approach that," Helfrich says. "He can improve a bunch in some areas if he did come back. And I understand the running back position is a short career in the NFL.'
Standing 5-9 and weighing 195 pounds, James probably does not have the size to be an every-down back in the NFL. But Helfrich believes James can still be successful at the next level.
'You see smaller guys being successful, whether it's as a returner, receiver, a change-up type of back, a counter punch to a bigger guy,' Helfrich says. 'It just takes the right situation. But there is no question he physically, mentally and psychologically has the ability to be very successful.'
The reasons for James to leave Oregon are obvious: there is not much left for him to accomplish statistically; in 2011, he proved that he was not made of steel, missing two games with a dislocated elbow; he is a fourth-year junior on pace to graduate at the end of the school year; after putting on an additional 15 pounds this season, with all he has already shown over the last three seasons, he would have a difficult time improving his draft stock.
There are reasons for James to stay at Oregon, too, though.
'People are going to talk about what they want to talk about, but they don't really know me,' James says. 'They don't know what is best for me. College is the best time of your life. I play for a great running back coach (Gary Campbell). Coach (Chip) Kelly is one of the great offensive minds.
'The only reason people make that jump is because they have a dream to pursue an NFL career and they chase the money. I'm not going to chase the money. I'm having fun in college right now. I love being with my teammates each and every day. Some of my best friends are on this team, and I know if I go to the NFL I'll never play with those guys again.'
James was not surprised when USC quarterback Matt Barkley - who probably would go higher in the draft than him - decided to return for another season with the Trojans.
'Things are changing now,' James says. 'I know Matt Barkley, and he's a team guy. I talked to (Stanford quarterback) Andrew (Luck), and he's a team guy. I'm a team guy, and I love my teammates. Not playing with those guys next year would be devastating to me, so I'm just cherishing the moment.'
After Monday's game, James says that he will give himself a relatively short timeline to decide whether to stay in college or leave for the NFL.
'Maybe a week or so,' he says. 'Maybe two weeks.'
For now, James has at least one more game to play in an Oregon uniform. And even with all that he has accomplished during the regular seasons, in bowl games he has several unrealized touchdowns and two losses to make up for, ideally.
'I want to win a bowl game,' James says. 'I look at every game like it's my last game. I can go out there and break my ankle, turn my ACL, God forbid that happens. You have to look at every game like it's your last game, and that's how I play them.'