Oregon’s James tries to change the story
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – According to Oregon running back LaMichael James, we have him wrong.
He says focusing on his missteps and associations with questionable characters doesn’t tell the whole story.
He is correct.
Four days before James and the Ducks face Auburn for the BCS national championship at University of Phoenix Stadium, he met the media and tried to set the record straight.
“I’m probably not that guy that you read all that stuff about,” James said Thursday. “That’s really just not me. People are going to take what they want to say and what they want to write, and they are going to write that. If you are looking from the outside in, things are, of course, going to look all bad from somebody I talked to. That’s just the way the world is.”
To understand James, you have to take into account from whence he came.
His father was murdered before James was born. His grandmother, his primary caretaker for much of his life, died when James was in high school in Texarkana, Texas.
Coming out of Liberty-Eylau High, James had plenty of folks around him looking to capitalize on his celebrity and standing.
Soft-spoken and reserved – and perhaps against the odds – James has become a first-team Pac-10 academic all-league player and a key cog in Oregon’s fast-paced, point-a-minute offense. The Ducks hope to eclipse their formidable offensive opposites from Auburn, led by fellow lightning rod Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner.
James’ year got off to a troublesome start in February when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his then-girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge in March. James was suspended for Oregon’s season opener, then reinstated and ran for 1,682 yards and scored 22 total touchdowns for the Ducks (12-0).
“He can make a big play at any time and break a touchdown at any time,” Ducks wide receiver Jeff Maehl said. “He has been doing that for us all year. And that’s something that they’ve got to watch out for.”
James, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore who has drawn comparisons to former NFL great Barry Sanders, needs just 68 yards to become Oregon’s leading career rusher. He was a finalist for the Heisman, sharing the stage in New York with Newton, and finished third in balloting. James was a consensus first-team All-American and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
“With everything that he’s gone through, LaMichael has been a very selfless big-time guy,” Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “He’s a quiet guy, sometimes to a fault.”
Along the way, another off-field issue surfaced. In November came an NCAA investigation into James’ use of a Land Rover owned by Pernell Brown, a convicted former gang member. Brown, who says he is a mentor to James, helps counsel gang members and young African-Americans to make a positive impact in the community.
Oregon says it considers the matter closed.
“You can levy any kind of relationship I have with anybody,” James said. “I know a lot of different people that came from different backgrounds. That’s not going to make me not talk to that person.
“That stuff doesn’t matter.”
James, 21, seems to take strife in stride. He points to his work in the classroom (he has a 3.01 grade-point average) and surprised some by announcing in December that he will return for his junior season rather than enter the NFL draft. He was projected as high as a second-round pick if he had chosen to leave school early.
“I already knew my [draft] decision before I made it,” he said. “I’m really just focused on the [championship] game. I really wasn’t thinking about the NFL. That’s really something that I’m not worried about right now. I’m worried about winning the game.”
Despite all the chaos and controversy, James seems calm, collected and focused on the task at hand. That includes finishing his degree in sociology to help ensure a life after football, he said. It includes not worrying about how others perceive him – or his previous mistakes.
“I’m going to continue being the same guy I was before,” James said. “I have to live day-to-day and never look back to the past.”
Should James and the Ducks beat the Tigers and claim the school’s first football national championship, he will give us all something else to write and talk about.
It’s a story most here will be glad to get right.