Kenjon Barner, one of the best running backs Oregon has ever seen, arrived in Eugene ready to contribute...on defense.
In his first year in Eugene, Barner was a scout team standout as a defensive back and a returner, as well as moonlighting as a WR/RB when the first-team defense needed reps against a speedy guy. He'd need the offensive experience in 2009, when a lack of depth at RB, and LeGarrette Blount's suspension, pressed Barner into duty as LaMichael James' backup. He showed flashes of brilliance in that redshirt freshman season, returning a kickoff for a touchdown against UCLA, and racking up over 200 all-purpose yards against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
With LaMichael James suspended for the 2010 opener against New Mexico, Barner seized the opportunity, running for 147 yards and scoring 5 first-half touchdowns, part of a 72-0 mauling of the Lobos. A week later, he silenced a rowdy Neyland Stadium crowd with an untouched punt return touchdown, part of a second half Oregon burst to take down Tennessee. Barner added another 100+ yard game in the Civil War.
After a 2011 season that saw Barner step up in earnest to replace LaMichael James by running for 393 yards and 4 touchdowns in the three games following James' injury against Cal, LMJ left for the NFL Draft, and many Duck fans wondered if Barner would be able to handle the load of a feature back. He emphatically answered the doubters with one of the best individual rushing seasons in Oregon history.
1767 yards rushing. 21 touchdowns. Eight 100+-yard games. Seven games with multiple touchdowns scored. Three 190+-yard games. Oh, and the greatest rushing game any Oregon running back has ever had.
The USC game in 2012, a game I was fortunate enough to attend in person, was one of the most remarkable sporting events I have ever seen. USC put up more than 600 yards of offense, and, arguably, more than 50 points (don't think I don't remember that meaningless final touchdown Lane Kiffin, you little snake), and lost. It was two offenses at the height of efficiency and power, and Kenjon Barner was simply better and more driven than anyone else. A school-record 321 yards rushing on 38 carries, and five touchdowns. It was a masterpiece, in front of his hometown SoCal fans. Barner's fourth quarter, in which he carried the ball 12 times for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns, was 100% grit and determination. Dude was gassed. You could see it when he was on the sideline, and between plays. But when the ball was snapped and handed off, to quote the great scholar Jay Tea-Light, "He simply wanted it more." The 5'9" Kenjon Barner was larger than life that night in Los Angeles.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kenny Wheaton's cutback into history and the 1994 Rose Bowl team, Addicted to Quack is counting down the top 20 football Ducks of the last 20 years. Our list so far...
#20 - Walter Thurmond III
#19 - Casey Matthews
#18 - Keenan Howry
#17 - Chad Cota
#16 - De'Anthony Thomas
#15 - Patrick Chung
#14 - Darron Thomas
#13 - Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
#12 - Jeff Maehl
#11 - Nick Reed
#9 - Alex Molden