LaMichael James Is a Star in the Making for the 49ers, and Here's Why
Coming out of high school, LaMichael James was a simple 3-star recruit who was the 40th-ranked running back in his class. Many collegiate programs looked at his size and said, "Oh he's too small to withstand the weekly punishment of a full-time back."
They may have been somewhat right considering he was only 5'9'' and 185 pounds as a graduating senior from Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas. Yet according to Scout.com, as a senior he led his team to a Texas 3A state title and rushed for 2,043 yards. Furthermore, he scored 26 all-purpose touchdowns on his way to an all-state selection.
Despite his size deficiencies, James obviously let his on-field play do the talking. TCU, Nebraska, Mississippi State, Minnesota, Houston, Baylor and Oregon all showed immense interest in the southern speedster.
When he narrowed down his collegiate choices, he decided to visit the top five and go from there. His first visit was made to TCU, his second to Minnesota, his third to Nebraska and his fourth to Oregon. We can't forget his final visit, which ended up being Mississippi State, even though it was more of a courtesy visit than anything.
After James left Oregon on January 1, 2008 he was sold.
As a true freshman, it was unknown if he would have the ability to showcase his skills due to the fact the Ducks already had a star-studded back in LeGarrette Blount. In 2008, Blount had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a junior on just 137 carries, so everyone expected him to build on his impressive season.
However, Blount only lasted one contest in the 2009 season. After the first game of the season against Boise State, he lost his cool and started a fight after being taunted by the opposition. The infamous "punch" cost him 10 games and a spot as a heralded draft pick in 2010.
He carried the ball 27 times for 152 yards against the Utes. He added one rushing touchdown and one reception. Over the course of the next 10 games he eclipsed the century mark eight times and garnered four multi-touchdown games.
By season's end, he averaged 9.9 yards per carry and was named Pac-10 freshman of the year. Performances against powerhouses like USC helped James snag the prestigious award—not to mention it helped lead Oregon to a Pac-10 championship.
According to Rachel Bachman of the Oregonian, the second-year tailback pled guilty to physically harassing his girlfriend on February 15, 2010. He received 24 months probation and was forced to sit out the first game of the season by Coach Kelly.
Nevertheless, him missing the first game of the season didn't throw off the 2010 season too much. He went on to collect an even more prestigious accolade by being named a consensus All-American. Moreover, James broke the Pac-10 sophomore single-season rushing record.
His sophomore season still stands as the 10th-best single-season performance in conference history.
Unfortunately, the Ducks failed to make history as James did. Their perfect 12-0 regular season came to a screeching halt when they ran into Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game.
He finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010, so it was easy to see why he wanted to come back. The Heisman Trophy is the highest recognition of achievement in all of college football, making the award incredibly tempting.
Plus, another run at a national championship in 2011 had to be equally tempting.
The 2011 season brought about more personal records that fell at record paces. James averaged a mind-blowing 12.4 yards per carry while amassing 1,805 yards rushing, which helped make him Oregon's all-time leading rusher.
His additional junior season records included a 288-yard game against Arizona. He also went on to lead the Pac-12 in rushing yards. His 5,082 career rushing yards allowed him to finish as the sixth-best running back in NCAA history since 2000.
Below is a list of the top 10 all-time rushers since Sports Reference kept track of collegiate stats.
With two losses, a Rose Bowl appearance would have to do. In wild fashion, James and company pulled out a 45-38 victory over Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers. Shortly after savoring the victory, he declared for the NFL draft.
James told USA Today that, "I feel like I'm leaving with a bang." At the same news conference he mentioned that he would likely be a third-round pick based on the grade given to him by the draft committee.
An already crowded 49ers backfield was now even more crowded. When the season began, the Niners had Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, James and Anthony Dixon all listed on their depth chart. Some teams have a hard time finding one good running back, let alone four.
The deep body count in the backfield kept the rookie sidelined until Week 14. The depth was running thin after Hunter was lost for the season with a torn Achilles and Jacobs was suspended for basically being a nuisance to Jim Harbaugh and the organization.
During Weeks 14, 15, 16 and 17 James averaged about 14 snaps per game. Furthermore, he averaged almost eight touches a game over the course of the final four games of the season. So, it's safe to say when he's in the game, the ball is going to him.
His second-quarter touchdown against Atlanta sparked the 49ers' comeback, which in turn propelled San Francisco's quest for its sixth Super Bowl. Heading into the Super Bowl, James has rushed for 180 yards on 35 carries. His lone touchdown in Atlanta has been his only score of the season, but I guarantee that changes come Sunday.
Another guarantee I can easily make is that James will be a star in this league and will be the face of the 49ers' backfield for years to come. It's rather easy to see based on two things: No. 1, he's successful and No. 2, he has always been a winner.
Dating back to high school, James has never been a part of a losing team. He doesn't know what it's like to lose, plain and simple. He also doesn't know what it's like to have a bad season. The phrase "bad season" doesn't fit when talking about him.
People tend to over-complicate things when evaluating players, but there is nothing to over-complicate as James is one of fastest, most agile players I've ever seen. This clip pretty much sums up why LaMichael James is a star in the making:
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