Northwest Correspondent, White Cover Magazine
Saturday was a big day for the Oregon Ducks. Yes, the Oregon Ducks. Their season ended one week earlier, but one of their greatest all time alumni was in the backfield for the majority of his first playoff game, riding shotgun to Colin Kaepernick’s historic night and trailblazing a path for future Ducks like him.
LaMichael James. He’s all bop and a little weave. A superstar in college, it would have been easy to imagine James simply floating through the draft and then disappearing into the sea of NFL running backs who just aren’t cut out for the more professional, bigger, and stronger game.
LaMichael comes from a Ducks system that is often hard to translate. Taking Oregon’s offensive scheme and applying it to a random NFL playbook is about as straightforward as speaking Catalan to a Spaniard from Madrid.
Sure, Cantonese and Mandarin are both Chinese, but they’re not Chinese.
Other Ducks before James haven’t been treated so weel by the NFL’s food chain. Quarterback Darron Thomas is the most recent casualty, but even he’s just a newer version of Dennis Dixon. It’s hard to imagine even someone like Kenjon Barner fitting in after the upcoming draft, or De’Anthony Thomas when he leaves the Ducks for the pros after next year.
Even the Ducks’ head coach, Chip Kelly, was essentially forced to stay in college for at least next season. It’s hard to imagine him leaving a system like the one he created for Oregon and then trying to pass it off on someone like Michael Vick or even Brandon Weeden.
Oregon focuses on speed, and so they don’t worry about size.
But, the NFL does.
Past running backs like Michigan’s Mike Hart never stood a chance in the big leagues. They wear the Scarlet Letter as soon as they graduate — or, sadly, don’t actually graduate — and they then spend a couple years biding time before they have to leave the NFL and become a colour analyst for their hometown high school or a computer software salesman.
But, LaMichael James is for real. On Saturday, he carried the Niners across the line whenever Colin Kaepernick couldn’t (which, admittedly, wasn’t often). He only had three carries, but he did what he could with them, averaging 7.0 yards a carry. He also caught one ball, but he was more than active on more than just four snaps where he held the pigskin.
This season, he’s filled in admirably for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Even though he ran for more than 1,500 yards in each of his three years at Oregon (including over 1,800 in his last year), James was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime starter, but he’s proven he’s more and he’s paved the way for this year’s graduating class.
It’s suddenly so easy to imagine Marcus Mariota completing 60-yarders for the Dallas Cowboys, or to picture De’Anthony Thomas returning nationally televised kickoffs for touchdowns at a clip of 20 miles an hour.
It sounds silly to suggest that a team as stacked, loaded, and financially free as Oregon would need hero, but they do.
That man’s name is LaMichael James.