2014 marks the 20-year anniversary of the single most iconic play in Oregon football history. On October 8, 1994, the No. 9 Washington Huskies marched into Autzen Stadium to face unranked Oregon. With the Ducks leading 24-20, Damon Huard dropped back on a 1st and Goal at the 9-yard line. I’ll let Jerry Allen let you know what happened next.
The win sparked a magical run that led the Ducks to a berth in the Rose Bowl. To celebrate the anniversary of this play, we’ve spent our summer counting down the top 20 Oregon football players of the past 20 years.
Today, on the eve of the 2014 season opener, we complete our list with the best Duck of the last 20 years, LaMichael James.
Back in 2009, one fateful decision in Boise changed the landscape of the Oregon backfield. After a frustrating loss to Boise State, Byron Hout got a little too confident and decided to do a little trash talking with LaGarette Blount. In the blink of an eye, Blount decked Hout in one of the uglier postgame moments you’ll ever see. As a result of the punch, Blount, Oregon’s starting running back at the time, was suspended indefinitely.
Enter LaMichael James.
James was pretty much a complete opposite player from Blount. James stood at just 5’9’’ and 195 lbs. compared to Blount who was 6’0’’ and 250 lbs. Blount had the power, James had the speed. And in Oregon’s offense, speed is what thrives. In 2009, James carried the ball 230 times for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns.
James had his first breakout performance against Utah, carrying the ball 27 times for 152 yards and a touchdown. He followed up that performance with another game over the century mark over California, running for 118 yards and a touchdown in a 42-3 beat-down over the Bears, who were ranked No. 6 going into the game. After rushing for 81 yards against Washington State, James finished the year with seven straight games where he ran for over 100 yards, including three straight games of over 150 rushing yards.
James also racked up a number of awards his freshman year, including Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year, National Freshman Performer of the Year and Third-team All-American.
James was even better in 2010 with 294 carries for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns. After missing the season opener due to a one-game suspension for an offseason incident, James became perhaps the most vital piece to Oregon that year, rushing for over 100 yards in nine of his 12 games played that year and ran for over 200 yards three times. His best performance of the year came in a 52-31 win over No. 9 Stanford, carrying the ball 31 times for 257 yards and three touchdowns. James also ran for over 200 yards against Portland State (227 yards, two touchdowns) and USC (239 yards and three touchdowns).
The awards kept on coming for James in 2010, winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. James was also named First-team All-America and a Heisman Trophy Finalist.
2011 was another outstanding year for James, carrying the ball 247 times for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns, including three straight games of 200-plus yards. James missed two games that year due to an elbow injury, which is astonishing considering at the time of the injury, most thought he was out for the year. Had it not been for the injury, James most likely would have broken 2,000 yards on the season. James capped off his collegiate career with a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, carrying the ball 25 times for 159 yards and a touchdown.
In 2011, James became the first two-time consensus All-America in school history and was named to the Walter Camp All-America team for the second straight season.
James was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but hasn’t seen as much success as expected. He didn’t see the playing field until December of his rookie year and has never rushed for more than 50 yards in a game yet. Once again, James is buried deep on San Francisco’s depth chart. Frank Gore is entering his 10th season with the 49ers, so if James has the patience, he could creep up the depth chart sooner rather than later.
With the conclusion of our top 20, we have officially arrived to football season. No more previews, no more speculation, just business.