It was expected that Oregon running back LaMichael James would decide to declare for the NFL draft, a decision that was only prolonged until after the Rose Bowl.
What wasn’t anticipated was the departure of quarterback Darron Thomas to the NFL. And, had Chip Kelly gone to Tampa Bay as the head coach, the Ducks would have in all likelihood fallen from preseason favorites to contend for another Pac-12 title.
As it is, the Ducks still have Kelly and running back Kenjon Barner, who announced earlier this month he would return for another year. Oregon fans know they caught a break keeping one; turns out, they might have caught another break with the other.
Appearing on ESPN’s College Football Live, Barner said that his decision to shun the NFL for one more year was perhaps a lot more difficult than originally assumed.
“I was very close — I was extremely close,” Barner said about going to the NFL.
When asked what made him come back to Oregon, the junior running back offered the following reply:
“I made a promise to my mom when I first came to school. I promised her that before I left here that I would finish out my degree. The opportunity presented itself to go to the next level, and obviously that’s something I want to do. I had a great conversation with coach Kelly and coach (Gary) Campbell, and I was just praying about it … and ultimately making the right decision in coming back to finish my senior year.”
Kelly has done as good a job as any coach in college football when it comes to actually plugging in any player to his system with minimal drop-off. Barner has already has 1,856 rushing yards over his three-year career in Eugene. Combine his productivity with new quarterback Bryan Bennett — we’re assuming Bennett will take control of the offense despite what Kelly will eventually say in spring practice — and Oregon looks like they’re in another good position for 2012.
It’s keeping Kelly around that now has the main focus of the school.