Growing up in Texarkana, Texas, LaMichael James was no stranger to adversity. Given up by his mother shortly after birth and never meeting his deceased father, James was raised If Dominique Wilkins was the human highlight reel for basketball, LaMichael is the football version by his grandmother, Betty James, in the Beverly neighborhood – a poverty-stricken section of his East Texas hometown.
James excelled in basketball and baseball as a youngster, but it was in junior high when he caught the attention of football coaches at nearby Liberty-Eylau High School. His dazzling speed and quick changes of direction had them salivating.
"If Dominique Wilkins was the human highlight reel for basketball, LaMichael is the football version," says Robert Cochran, James' mentor and assistant coach at Liberty-Eylau. "It was always, 'What's he going to do next?'"
James quickly rose to stardom, leading Liberty-Eylau to a Class 3A state championship in his
junior year, but soon after tragedy struck. His grandmother, who raised him since he was two weeks old, died from cervical cancer.
During this grieving period, James got by with the support of his sister, Tasha Galloway, his football coaches and other members of the community. Though James admits he still hasn't accepted his grandmothers passing, he is grateful for the support and strong connections he made during this difficult time.
For James, Texarkana isn't just the place where his career started. It's the place he calls home, where he endured hardships and learned lessons that made him the man he is today.
And now, James looks forward to the opportunity to give back to the community that made it possible for him to achieve his dream of playing in the National Football League.
LaMichael James' career at the University of Oregon didn't begin as expected for the leading rusher in school history.
Choosing the far-away Oregon over a school much closer to home was a surprise for those close to James, who had If you get an opportunity to coach a kid like him, it's once in a lifetime never traveled more than a few hundred miles from his hometown.
"I couldn't talk him out of it," says Tasha Galloway, his sister, who tried to convince him to attend Oklahoma State. "I was so shocked."
Many times James called his sister with bags packed, ready to move home and transfer to TCU. Friends and former coaches, however, pushed him to stay, promising it would get better. And it did.
Eventually James came to embrace the Oregon community, forging special bonds with running backs coach Gary Campbell, and Kim Johannsen, who was like a second mother to him when he was feeling down.
Four years and more than 5,000 rushing yards later, James finds himself with a college degree and amongst elite company in the Pac-12 Conference record books.
"If you get an opportunity to coach a kid like him, it's once in a lifetime," says Campbell, who is still very close with James. "You're lucky because most guys never get a guy like him."
Grateful for the opportunities and support the Oregon family gave him, James wants to give back to the community he now considers a second home.
When the San Francisco 49ers drafted LaMichael James with the 61st pick in the 2012 NFL draft, a dream was realized.
All the hard work from his days at Liberty-Eylau High School and the University of Oregon paid off. His path to the NFL was not an easy one, but James was eager to make an instant impact on the league.
As a rookie on a team with a solid backfield, however, James had to wait for his opportunity to contribute. "I had a I had a lot to learn and I'm still learning. I'm very blessed to be in the situation I'm in lot to learn," James said. "I'm still learning. I'm very blessed to be in the situation I'm in."
Though he didn't see the field until Week 14, James finished the regular season with 125 rushing yards on 27 attempts and came up big with a 62-yard kickoff return to set up the go-ahead score in a Week 15 win over the New England Patriots.
In the playoffs James has been especially productive rushing for 55 yards on 8 carries, including his first touchdown in the NFC Championship game en route to a 49ers victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
With the 49ers coming off their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years, James is optimistic about the future, both playing for and giving back to the San Francisco Bay Area community.