Oregon RB James eager for fresh start

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EUGENE, ORE. (AP) - The past year has been both amazing and awful _ and everything in between _ for LaMichael James.

Last season the running back was thrust into a starting role for the Ducks as a redshirt freshman and surpassed all expectations. Then in the offseason, he was arrested and wound up pleading guilty to a charge stemming from an altercation with his ex-girlfriend.

As a result of the trouble, James will now sit out No. 11 Oregon’s opener Saturday against New Mexico at Autzen Stadium. Despite the punishment, he is still excited about the new season and the fresh start.

“You have to feel confident,” he said. “I feel like if you go out and practice hard and you feel confident, then the games are easy.”

Even though James won’t play opening week, he is still part of the conversation when it comes to the nation’s top running backs, joining the likes of West Virginia’s Noel Devine, Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis and Jacquizz Rodgers from up the road at Oregon State in challenging reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram of Alabama this season.

Last year as a freshman, James was expecting a limited role with the Ducks behind starter LeGarrette Blount. That all changed following the opener.

Blount punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout in the aftermath of Oregon’s 19-8 loss to the Broncos on national television. Chip Kelly, barely into his first season as the Ducks’ head coach, responded by suspending Blount for the season.

Blount eventually earned his way back onto the team by meeting certain conditions that Kelly had set down, but James won the nod as starter in the interim and flourished.

It was an impressive debut for the redshirt freshman. Among the highlights was his 183 yards rushing in Oregon’s 47-20 upset over then-No. 5 USC on Halloween night.

James wound up with a team-high 1,546 yards rushing, setting a new record for freshmen in the Pac-10 Conference. He averaged 6.7 yards a carry and added 14 touchdowns to earn the league’s Freshman of the Year award.

Oregon went 10-3 and earned its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1995 before James went into the offseason as a celebrity in Eugene. Considered a good kid, it was a shock when he was suddenly arrested on domestic violence charges on Feb. 17.

According to police, James got into an argument with an ex-girlfriend which turned physical. The woman claimed he grabbed her by her neck and shoved her to the ground.

James spent two days in jail. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge and Kelly suspended him from the opener.

The Ducks were further tainted in the offseason when quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary connected to the theft of a couple of laptops and a guitar from a campus fraternity house.

Kelly suspended Masoli for the season but later dismissed him from the team when he was stopped for a traffic violation with marijuana in his car. Masoli was hoping to play his final year of eligibility this season at Mississippi, but on Tuesday the NCAA denied his request for a waiver, meaning he won’t be eligible until 2011.

James was succinct about wanting to put his past in the past.

“I’m never going to live that day again in my life,” he said. “I’ve just got to move on.”

Amid the drama, James worked on his game by joining Oregon’s track and field team, albeit on a limited basis, as a sprinter. James, a Texas state champion in the 100 meters when he was in high school, came in fifth in the event at this year’s Pac-10 championships.

When fall camp opened, James said that before the events that transpired in the offseason, he simply didn’t fully understand the responsibility of his position.

“You’re in a fishbowl. Either you’re at the top and everybody’s waiting for you to fall, or you’re at the bottom and everybody’s waiting for you to screw up,” he said.

James will finally get to play in Oregon’s game at Tennessee on Sept. 11, sharing the bulk of the rushing duties with fellow sophomore Kenjon Barner. Both James and Barner thrive in Kelly’s spread-option offense, which will likely feature frequent two-back sets this season.

Barner will start in James‘ place on Saturday.

As a result of his success last season, James said he’s ready for the fact that he’s no longer a surprise.

“I know a lot of great players around the conference and a lot of great players around the nation, and they’re great players but if they don’t win games it really doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “I want to go out and win games.”

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