EUGENE, Ore. - Star University of Oregon running back LaMichael James will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.
"I feel like I'm leaving with a bang," said James, less than a week after he helped the Ducks to a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Many fans and insiders had assumed that James, who is a junior, would declare for the draft.
James has earned dozens of awards and records during his tenure with the Ducks. In addition to leading the team to a third-straight Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl victory in 2011, he also was the national leader in rushing yards per game at 149.64.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, James said he's been told he's likely a third-round pick. He hopes to improve his status with workouts.
James is one term away from completing a degree in General Social Science, or sociology. He may take the winter term off to train before returning to school in the spring to finish up.
"My experience at the University of Oregon has been one unlike any other, and one I will never forget," James said. "I am grateful for the people I have met, the things I have learned, and the amazing community I have had the privilege of being a part of over the last three-and-a-half years."
He said he ultimately reached his decision on Thursday, which was difficult because of his close relationship with Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell.
"As for my coaches and teammates -- they are my family. I love each and every one of them and am eternally grateful for having each of them be a part of my life," James emphasized. "It has been both an honor and a privilege to be a part of something as great as the UO family."
A 5-foot-9, 195-pound All-American, James rushed for a school-record 1,805 yards this season despite missing two games with a dislocated right elbow.
James is Oregon's all-time leading career rusher with 5,082 yards. He is the first Pac-12 player to have three straight 1,500-yard seasons.
In Oregon's 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, James rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown.
James has not yet hired an agent, but plans to do so in the near future.
"I am 100 percent behind LaMichael," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He is a very special person and certainly will be remembered as one of the very best players ever to wear a uniform at the University of Oregon. It has been a pleasure to coach him for the four seasons he has been here and is comforting to know that he will obtain his degree this spring. I could not have asked anymore from him and I am confident he will be a success at the next level."
Earlier this season, Stanford coach David Shaw raved about James.
"He's not a big guy, but he breaks tackles. He can stop and start. He's got some Reggie Bush characteristics at times," Shaw said. "And by all accounts, outside of playing us, I'd pull for him because he's a great kid. Everybody that I've ever had contact with who has had contact with this kid says he's a great kid."
James got off to a slow start this season with 54 yards rushing in the season-opening loss to LSU before he had 67 against Nevada, spurring talk that perhaps some weight he added in the offseason was slowing him down.
But then he reeled off three straight games with 200 or more yards.
James first grabbed attention as a redshirt freshman after running back LeGarrette Blount was suspended for punching a Boise State player after Oregon's 2009 season opener. James ran for a Pac-10 freshman-record 1,546 yards and was honored as the league's freshman of the year.
Last season he keyed the Ducks' super-fast spread offense to a 12-0 regular-season record and a berth in the BCS championship game. James declared he was returning to Oregon even before the loss to Auburn in the title game, saying he wanted to complete his education.
When the season was over, James led the NCAA in yards rushing with 1,731. He finished third in the Heisman vote behind winner Cam Newton of Auburn and Andrew Luck of Stanford.
James leaves Oregon with several school records, including most career touchdowns (58), most career 100-yard rushing games (26) and most career points (348). He has seven career 200-yard games.
He is the eighth Ducks player to leave school for the draft with eligibility remaining.