Oregon's James Stands Out In The Crowd
By Haley Hirai
LaMichael James was the only Oregon player not wearing all black cleats tonight. He was the only one to rush for 219 yards. He was the only one to break multiple records while leading his team to the Pac-12 title. He was the only MVP.
"He's special," said head coach Chip Kelly. "It's not just a football thing with him. It's the way he lives his life…he's this university…and I truly believe that our university is about unique excellence and that young man is about unique excellence."
When James was a freshman, he told offensive lineman Mark Asper that he was just a little guy, so he only needed a little hole to run through to make something happen. The "little guy" not only made a big impact on tonight's game, but on the team as a whole.
It was a night of firsts in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, as James became the first player in conference history to tally three 1,500-yard rushing seasons. He passed former USC back Marcus Allen for third on the Pac-12's career rushing list. His three rushing touchdowns brought his rushing touchdown total to 52, making him only the third player in conference history to reach over 50 rushing touchdowns.
Oregon's 49-31 victory over UCLA could have been James' last game in an Oregon uniform at Autzen Stadium. Eligible to enter the NFL draft in April, the fan favorite will be facing tough decisions in the coming months. As he accepted his MVP trophy on a stage in front of almost 60,000 screaming fans, James was showered with cheers of "ONE MORE YEAR!" as Oregon fans implored him to stay.
"I love the fans. They support me through thick and thin, always. The most important thing to me is my teammates…always being fun with them every day. I cherish a team like this," he said. "I don't think about one more year. I think about the next day."
James' teammates can't imagine their squad without their outgoing and laid-back leader.
"I'm probably one of his biggest fans, really," said defensive end Dion Jordan, who entered in the same recruiting class as James. "I really can't imagine us without LaMichael."
LaMichael is like a big brother to the other running backs on the team, including true freshman DeAnthony Thomas.
"Our motivation level wouldn't be high enough without him," Thomas said.
His style of play makes everyone else play better just by being around him, but he's still "quick to pop a joke in the huddle or the sideline" according to linebacker Dewitt Stuckey.
"Having a guy with that kind of attitude, who's willing to take on whatever he's given and not give up on a play, play hard, and run fast, makes your job easy as an offensive lineman," said Asper.
With their victory tonight, Oregon earned its spot in the Rose Bowl against either Michigan State or Wisconsin, depending on the Big Ten championship game. It will be Oregon's second trip to the Rose Bowl in three years, and its third consecutive appearance in a BCS bowl game.
"It's the pinnacle to play in the granddaddy of them all," said Kelly. "If you don't have the chance to play in the BCS (National Championship Game), there's no other game we'd rather play in than the Rose Bowl. We're excited to go there and represent this school."
Although this could have been James' farewell to his home field, he will lace up those cleats once again on January 2. Just like the cleats he wore tonight, James stands out from the rest of the pack.