Kenjon Barner had an interesting experience this summer. In fact, it was a first for the Oregon junior halfback from Riverside, California.
“I got a job,” said Barner. “I sold Power Bands at the Valley River Center, and I learned that money comes hard. But it was a great experience for a first job.”
That wasn’t the only thing Barner did during the month of July. He could also be found with his fellow Ducks in the hot sun at voluntary conditioning drills, getting prepared for the upcoming season. One of those teammates with him was, obviously, starting running back LaMichael James, who says he’s in much better shape now than the past two years.
“I got a lot stronger,” explained the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner. “There is no question I did a lot of great things as far as strength and conditioning.”
Indeed, LaMichael, who is once again a potential Heisman candidate, seems to be carrying a larger frame, as does Kenjon. Though their respective weights appear the same in the U of O media guide, James (listed at 185) and Barner (listed at 180), it is quite obvious that both of them have added at least 15-20 pounds of rock-soild muscle. Even more frightening to the Ducks opponents’, both James and Barner claim they are faster, too.
But while Oregon’s top two running backs’ physiques might’ve changed, one thing has remained the same. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are still the best of friends, even if they do have a disagreement on who holds a rather dubious title.
“LaMichael is a crybaby,” chuckled Kenjon. “He cries about anything and everything.”
“I figure Kenjon would say something like that,” laughed LaMichael. “But Kenjon is the real crybay. Ask him about crying at practice last year each and every day and see what he has to tell you about that.”
All kidding aside, perhaps the biggest attribute in their friendship is the way they motivate each other to reach a little higher.
“LaMichael makes you want to work hard when he comes out,” Barner explains. “When I work hard I make LaMichael want to work. There may be days where one of us feels tired, but we never really let each other take the day off.”
That attitude may be more important as James and Barner are now upperclassmen and will be expected to take an even larger leadership role. So far, the younger backs have been respectful to two of the most accomplished players in Oregon history.
“They’re very good leaders,” said redshirt freshman Ayele Ford. “When it’s time to practice, they help me out with plays and whatever I need. They’re also very good off the field as mentors.”
James and Barner have been mentoring some very talented running backs. While five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk recently decided to transfer to Baylor, the cupboard is still very full. In addition to the speedy 5’7, 179 pound Forde, the Ducks have two other guys that could play a lot of Saturdays at Autzen.
There is the freshman De’Anthony Thomas from Los Angeles. The 5’9 160 pound five-star recruit originally planned to sign with USC, before signing with Oregon at the last minute.
Another name to look out for is freshman Tra Carson. Like LaMichael James, Carson is from Texarkana, Texas and played at Liberty-Eylau High School. Unlike James, however, Carson is 6’0 and 227 pounds and could bring a much-needed physical change of pace to an otherwise finesse roster of backs.
Whoever winds up getting some handoffs come September, Barner and James like what they see with the new kids on the roster.
“I’ve been impressed with them,” claimed Barner. “Tra is a big guy, but he moves like he’s 185 pounds. De’Anthony is extremely intelligent, and they’ve both picked up on the offense very well.”
“I love Ayele Ford,” said James. “I think he’s an unsung hero on this team. He does everything right, breaks a lot of tackles, and could make a lot of big runs.”
Of course, whatever big runs that Forde, Thomas, or Carson can make will likely be limited as James and Barner will get the bulk of the carries. Having compiled 3,277 yards as Duck, LaMichael only needs 20 more to surpass Derek Loville as Oregon’s all-time leading rusher. But for the soft-spoken James, it never has been about the accolades.
“I’m just taking it game-by-game,” he said about his expectations for 2011. “Hopefully, we win the first game, and then take it from there. I only think about the game in front of me and winning the day. You can’t look ahead or think about anything else.”
As for Barner, he’s a potential candidate for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the most versatile player in college football. Yet Kenjon isn’t concerned about setting a single-game touchdown record as he did with five last season against New Mexico. In fact, since he missed two games last season after a nasty collision against WSU on a kickoff, his goals are pretty simple.
“My main goal is to stay healthy,” explained Barner. “I just want to stay healthy and complete a season without getting hurt. That, and just being here with these guys, and getting on this field again.”
Both James and Barner understand that, with a successful 2011 campaign, Oregon could appear in a third consecutive BCS bowl game. They’re also pretty straight forward with what it will take to make that happen.
“We have to stay focused and practice hard every day,” stated James. “That’s the only way you can win games.
“We have to keep our mindset the same,” Barner opined. “We have to stay humble, and keep our nose to the grindstone. If we do that, it’s going to be an exciting season.”
Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011. He welcomes your feedback.