Dillon Miller

A New Chapter Begins….

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

We knew it was likely, and now a new chapter begins for Oregon football.  Mere days after the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, star running back LaMichael James made it official on Friday by announcing that he would forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

LaMichael James is taking his talents to the next level. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

“It really was a difficult decision,” said James. “Especially after winning the big game and sharing that moment with my teammates. It was kind of like that you don’t want to go out another way.”

The 2010 Doak Walker Award winner rewrote the record books during his three years as a Duck. He’s scored the most points with 348, and his 58 touchdowns are the most overall. For that matter, his career 5,082 rushing yards rank second all-time in Pac-12 Conference history. Still, with all he’s accomplished, James said it was a tough choice to walk away from people he now considers family.

“I love my (running backs) coach (Gary Campbell) to the end and I’ll always be a part of his life,” he explained. “That, and not being in the locker room with my teammates will be very difficult for me.”

LaMichael James will finish as Oregon's all-time leading scorer and rusher. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

In the end, however, he believes there’s not much more he can accomplish playing in college. That, and he’s only a couple courses away from graduating.

“Ultimately, it came down to almost having my degree,” James stated. “I’ve also achieved just about everything that I possibly can at this level. I could win the Heisman or the BCS Title, but that’s just not likely. I feel like I’m going out with a bang.”

Now that he’s officially decided to go pro, James is excited to be able to have a chance at doing something only so many can consider a legitimate possibility.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve thought about playing in the NFL all my life. Who wouldn’t? I’m glad I can come a step closer to accomplishing those goals.”

James considers the chance to play on Sundays a dream come true. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

He’ll soon hire an agent, and will begin training for the February scouting combine in Indianapolis.  With any luck, the 5’9, 195 pounder hopes he can defy the logic of where he’ll finish in the draft.

“The draft advisory board told me I could be picked as high as the third round,” he clamied. “Right now, I’m hoping to go in the second round depending on how I perform at the combine.”

With all the stuff he’s preparing for in the next phase, James hasn’t had much time to look back at the standard he’s set at Oregon. Unquestionably, though, he’s raised the bar for future Ducks and is proud to have played in Eugene.

“It’s probably the best time I’ve ever had in my life, he explained. “It has taught me a lot of different lessons, and I think the credit has to go to head coach Chip Kelly as well as coach Campbell. I’ve never really been on a resilient team where everybody puts the team before each other and there are no independent superstars. This year’s team that won the Rose Bowl was the best by far where teammates are concerned.”

LaMichael hasn't had the chance to look back at his many accomplishments at Oregon. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Now the guy who is, arguably, greatest running back in Oregon history is ready to take on the challenges of the NFL as easily as he dodged so many opposing defensive players at Autzen Stadium.

“I feel like I can be successful at the next level,” James said. “After that, I feel like I’ll be successful at whatever career path I choose.”

For the record, I think LaMichael could surprise some people in the pros. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be an every down back, but could definitely make an impact as a situational player or on special teams.

The Oregon running game will also move along fine with Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, and Tra Carson still in the stable.  By the same token, there will never be another guy moved the way James did. There may also not be another one who could stay so humble no matter how brightly his star shined in the Willamette Valley.

From a reporter’s standpoint, he was always willing to answer my questions in a respectful manner.  I wish him the best and hope I can get a word in with him from time to time wherever he winds up.

Now then, let’s move onto a few other items. First off, it is still very hard to get a good read on the Oregon men’s basketball team. The Ducks looked ready to take on the upper tier of the Pac-12 conference on Thursday with a solid 78-67 win against Stanford.

Dana Altman needs his Ducks to be a little more consistent if they're going to make the postseason. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Oregon didn’t follow up on that performance on Sunday in a deflating 77-60 loss to Cal.  Head coach Dana Altman didn’t hesitate listing the reasons for the defeat.

“There were a number of things we needed to work on,” he said. “We had the opportunities, but we gave up easy baskets. The tempo favored Cal in the second half and they had it going for them.”

No question about it.  The Ducks battled the Bears for 20 minutes, and only trailed 30-27 at halftime.  Then Allen Crabbe got hot for Cal, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.  At the same time, Oregon simply couldn’t match them shot for shot.

But perhaps the real reason the Ducks dropped a tough one at Matt Knight Arena was the inconsistent play of Devoe Joseph.  The 6’4 guard could do no wrong against the Cardinal when he led all scorers with 30 points.

Yet on Sunday, Joseph had trouble getting it going early and only had five points in the first half (and a total of 14 on the night).

If this talented, but young, Oregon team is going to find its way into postseason, they’ll need to get some more consistency from Joseph as well as get a little tougher on defense.  This coming week will be a challenge for them as they head on the road to play the Arizona schools.

Should they get a split on that trip, they might just keep themselves in the race for a very reachable Pac-12 title.  I certainly like the potential of this team. If they can play like they did against Stanford, then they’ve got a very decent shot at getting Oregon’s first NCAA bid since 2008. But they’ve got to clean up their mistakes sooner than later.

When it comes to the Oregon women’s basketball team, however, I’m not as sold. Sure, those Ducks have an overall 9-7 record, but are 1-3 in Pac-12 play. Moreover, they games they’ve lost haven’t been close.  They got pasted 90-67 on Saturday against Cal, and were walloped 93-70 two night prior at Stanford. (Though, in fairness, almost everyone loses badly to the Cardinal these days).

For Oregon to have any chance to be successful on a given evening, they’ll need to have both Nia Jackson and Amanda Johnson healthy. They recently got back Jackson, but Johnson is still out with an injured thumb.

Thus, for an otherwise very young squad, wins are going to be very hard to come by. If anyone can eventually turn this program around, head coach Paul Westhead is more than capable. But it looks like season number three of the rebuilding project is going to be a very long one indeed.

Switching to the prep level, the Sheldon boys seem to be putting things together. On Thursday, the Irish prevailed over Marist 66-64.  They’re now 3-1 in the Midwestern League play, and it looks like head coach Ron Lampe has another solid squad on his hands.  Time will tell as the season goes on, but with Connor Strahm and Dillon Miller as spectacular on the court as they are on the gridiron, you’ve got to like their chances down the stretch.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Irish Punch Out Cardinals

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Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

It wasn’t just the weather that was cold on Friday night at Sheldon High School.  Aside from the 30-something degree temperature, it took the Irish football team a little while to warm up as well.  In the end, the Irish pulled out a 45-21 victory over the Lincoln Cardinals in the second round of the 6A OSAA playoffs.

Sheldon quarterback Dillon Miller throws a pass against Lincoln. (Photo Credit: Jon Morgan)

“I’m just glad this one is over with and that we’re moving on,” claimed Johnson.

Don’t let the scoreboard fool you.  The second-ranked Irish came out flat in this one. Ironically, they found themselves in an unfamiliar position early in the first quarter.  Usually the aggressors, the Sheldon defense was reeling on Lincoln’s opening drive, as Cardinals’ quarterback Johnny Williams marched his team down the field for an early 7-0 lead.  It marked the first time all year that the Irish started a game trailing.

“We just didn’t hit on the cylinders that we’ve been hitting on,” said Johnson of the slow start.  “I don’t have answer for it.  I guess I didn’t do a very good job getting our team prepared, but we’re still playing.”

By the same token, Johnson was quick to give credit to his opponents’ efforts.

Connor Strahm runs for some of his 269 yards of total offense on Friday. (Photo Credit: Jon Morgan)

“I think 90 percent of it might be the job that Lincoln did,” he said. “They were very well prepared and their kids are tough and physical.  They kind of took it to us. We answered a couple of knock down shots, so I’m proud of our kids.”

Indeed, the Irish did answer a couple of haymakers with a few blows of their own.  They quickly answered Lincoln’s scoring drive with one of their own that ended with a short touchdown run by junior running back Connor Strahm, who was the Cardinal killer during the evening.

Strahm did it with his feet by running for 100 yards on 12 carries.  He was just as nimble with his hands by catching five passes for 169 yards.  In the end, he wound up with five touchdowns and had 269 of Sheldons 366 yards of total offense.

“Connor took over for us on both sides of the ball,” Johnson explained. “He’s an outstanding football player who has a shiftiness to him that, in my 26 years of coaching, I’ve rarely seen.”

That shiftiness came in handy in the second quarter, when he took a direct snap and darted his way into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.  That gave the Irish a 14-7 advantage, Strahm wasn’t done yet.

On Lincoln’s next series, Strahm displayed his defensive prowess by picking off a pass from Williams and took it to the Cardinals’ nine yard line.  Shortly thereafter, Strahm caught a short pass from Dillon Miller, extending their lead to 20-7.

In the third quarter, it appeared as if Strahm had delivered a knock out blow with a 39-yard touch down run on the opening drive.  The Irish were suddenly up 29-7 and the Cardinals were reeling, right?  Wrong.

Connor Strahm dives into the end zone for a score. (Photo Credit: Jon Morgan)

Sheldon’s defense showed some inconsistency during the course of the evening, too. There were great moments when defensive tackle Jacob Foutz delivered two wicked sacks on Williams. However, when Williams didn’t go down, he was scrambling every which way and making plays.  This was why Lincoln managed two quick scores to close the gap at 29-21.

“We are a great defensive team when we stay on our feet and tackle,” Johnson said. “But when we start to go to the ground, we become really average.  Their quarterback is really slippery.  I don’t have an answer for why we couldn’t tackle him, but he did a great job of eluding us.”

In the end, Lincoln could only elude the Irish so often. In the fourth quarter, Miller calmed any anxieties from the Sheldon faithful by throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Herr that essentially locked up the game.  After that, the Cardinals seemed to lose focus, and couldn’t quite get back on track for the rest of the night.

As a result, Sheldon will move on to face the Grant Generals this coming Friday. Still, Johnson emphasized that he expected a better effort out of his team in the next game.

“We’re still playing,” Johnson explained. “But we’re not as sharp as we need to be.  We were just flat.  I guarantee we’ll be better next week.”

As has been the case the last two playoff games, the Irish will have the home field advantage again.  Now, according to Johnson, the key will be to get back to playing the way that got them in this position in the first place.

“Getting to play here is huge for us,” he said. “We just need to play with the spunk that we had for the first 10 weeks of the season that we didn’t have tonight.”

 

Irish Maul Cavaliers In First Round.

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Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Talk about a mismatch. The No. 2 6A team in the state against a two-win opponent that got into the OSAA playoffs by winning a play-in game last week. So it was no surprise that the Sheldon Irish scorched the lowly Clackamas Cavaliers 50-0 on Friday night.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

Just to provide the tale of two teams, consider the overall yardage by both teams in the contest. Sheldon produced 475 yards of total offense, while holding Clackamas to barely 153 yards. Moreover, the Irish took care of the football.  The Cavaliers, on the other hand, fumbled the ball once and quarterback Cade Wilkins threw two interceptions.  Not a recipe for success against one of the state’s best teams.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The Irish certainly put on a show for their home fans by scoring all of their points in the first half. Sheldon got the fireworks going early in the first quarter, when junior running back Mitch Lewis scored on an eight-yard touchdown run to give his team a 7-0 lead. Lewis ended up rushing for 81 yards and three touchdowns for the evening. Lewis’ contributions will be critical if Sheldon is going to go deep into the playoffs. After all, all-conference running back Ryan Land is probably done for the season with a lacerated kidney. The Irish will also need help from Cameron Herr, who did his part by running for 87 yards and a touchdown. So it looks like their running attack will be just fine for the time being.

Sheldon’s passing game seems to be hitting on all cylinders as well. On their next possession, Irish quarterback Dillon Miller hooked up with Connor Strahm for a 47-yard touchdown strike, stretching their advantage to 14-0.  Miller completed 16-of-21 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was clearly Strahm, who had five receptions for 111 yards and two scores.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

The first quarter was just an opening act for the Irish. The real drama came when Sheldon reeled off 36 points in the second quarter. First, Lewis scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Moments later, while playing defensive back, he returned a Cavalier fumble for yet another score. That made it 28-0 Irish, and they were just warming up.

On Sheldon’s next possession, Miller found Strahm once more. This time, they connected on a 44-yard touchdown pass, extending the lead to 34-0. Then a case of double trouble occurred. Defensive back Dylan Lewis (Mitch’s twin brother) got into the act. He blocked a punt that went out of the end zone for a safety. That merely added two points to an otherwise large 36-0 lead.

photographs courtesy of Jon Morgan for Sheldon Athletics

Still, the Irish weren’t done yet. Even Yogi Berra would’ve said it was over, they managed to find their way on the board two more times thanks to Herr. First, he scored on a two-yard run, padding the game at 43-0.  On their next offensive series, Herr caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Miller. That was clearly more than enough insurance for Sheldon to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Now that the warm up with Clackamas is successfully completed, the Irish’s record now stands at a perfect 10-0. Sheldon will be back at home again this coming Friday night. They’ll face off against the 4th-seeded Lincoln Cardinals, who advanced yesterday after defeating Gresham 28-14. Kickoff is set for 7 pm at Sheldon High School.