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Trust Talent Time

LaMichael James surprises Willamette High students with donated equipment

LaMichael James is back in Eugene this week, and while his stock nationally as an NFL prospect has only lately been on the rise, it’s clear his star still shines brightly among locals.

James appeared Wednesday at a Willamette High assembly at which he signed autographs, answered questions from students and announced a donation to the school of $5,000 in athletic training equipment from SKLZ, for whom James is an endorser. Today, Oregon’s all-time leading rusher will participate along with several other former UO players in a pro day workout for NFL scouts in the Moshofsky Center.

Since his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, James has seen his draft stock rise in the eyes of many analysts. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN listed James among the combine’s “winners” and projected him as worthy of a second-round pick.

Kiper also bumped James into his “Big Board” list of the top 25 prospects in the draft regardless of position. So participating in today’s pro day is not without risk for James, who could hurt his stock with a subpar showing.

“You’ve got to be careful in anything,” he said Wednesday. “I know I’d do better though.”

James ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the combine — impressive to scouts, but a bit slower than his goal — and shined in some of the other speed and agility drills, too. He said his plan today initially is to limit his participation to the 40 and positional drills — initially.

“I’m pretty competitive though,” James said. “I think once I get going, we’ll have to see.”

James is the most highly regarded draft prospect from Oregon in this year’s class. Among the Ducks looking to improve their stock before April’s draft will be quarterback Darron Thomas and cornerback Cliff Harris; UO officials couldn’t confirm Wednesday the list of participants for today’s pro day, though it’s known Harris definitely plans to attend.

Oregon’s pro day will be held in the afternoon. Earlier today, Oregon State will host a similar event, featuring receiver and returner James Rodgers, among others.

The biggest prospect coming out of the Willamette Valley is Oregon’s James, though, and he got a taste of superstar treatment Wednesday at Willamette High.

Before helping demonstrate a few of SKLZ’s products and announcing the donation at the end of a 40-minute presentation, James took questions for about 15 minutes from students. One asked what he loved most about playing at Oregon (“I like to play fast”), and another asked James his online video game moniker; James offered the boy a pair of signed cleats if he could beat James at a college basketball game (“I play with Oregon”).

At least twice, James used his answers to stress the importance of academics to the high school students. If not totally comfortable standing at a podium with a microphone in his hand before hundreds of students, the naturally introverted James at least showed he can step into that role at times.

“I’m always out of my comfort zone speaking,” he said afterward. “But it’s something you’ve got to do, in order to get a point across.

“I think when people really see me, that really I’m not that big, or that I’m down to earth, it’s a positive thing.”

When his presentation ended, James was mobbed by students seeking autographs. Some brought jerseys and game programs to be signed, others ticket stubs or even good old-fashioned newspapers featuring photos of James.

“They’ve given me so much throughout my career, coming out and supporting me and supporting the team,” James said. “Everywhere I go it’s, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ So it’s great to give back. Especially to be a positive role model to kids, show them ‘you can do it.’ ”

When approached by SKLZ about the potential for the equipment donation, James said he “thought it was a great idea, and I wanted to be a part of it.” When it came time to select a school to receive the donation, James picked one in which he perhaps saw something of himself — an underdog competing against bigger opponents.

“I came from a high school like this, that maybe didn’t have all the top-line equipment,” James said. “For me to come in and give a huge donation for a school like this, it really is big.”

During the ceremony, James was presented with a maroon “Wolverine Nation” T-shirt, and just before leaving, he promised to “wear it with pride.” Sure enough, within about 90 minutes, he Tweeted a picture of himself in the shirt.

 

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