Oregon Ducks

Royce Freeman and LaMichael James connected within Oregon's RB fraternity

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Oregon running back Royce Freeman remains the unassuming superstar. 

He seeks to avoid media attention like he does defenders. Freeman juked virtually all media during spring drills with a well conceived class schedule that left him unavailable. 

"Had to dip and dodge," he said with a smile. 

Being the face of the team, so to speak, meant Freeman found himself in a pool infested with media during Pac-12 media days, which started today in Hollywood. 

He couldn't avoid the questions or the spotlight. He handled himself well, as usual, deflecting questions that revolved around him and redirecting them toward the team. 

When asked about East Coast bias maybe impacting West Coast teams and players, Freeman didn't bite. Nor did he when asked about being overshadowed by Stanford senior running back Christian McCaffrey, last year's Pac-12 offensive player of the year and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting. 

"I feel like you get what you deserve," Freeman said. "If you want praise and everything, then you're a 'me' guy, and that's not me."

How well Freeman is viewed nationally, he can't control. The Ducks, picked by the media to finish fifth in the Pac-12, must win big for his rushing numbers to get him into the Heisman race. And the field is deep, with several returners that placed within the top six in voting last season. 

However, there is one area where Freeman could make a lasting name for himself and cement his place within Oregon football lore for decades to come. The 235-pound Freeman, who wears No. 21,  needs 1,880 yards to surpass the most famous No. 21 in program history, LaMichael James' career rushing mark of 5,082, set from 2009 through 2011. Freeman has 3,203 career yards after rushing for 1,838 in 2015. 

Freeman said he's connected with James and the two have talked. 

"He's motivating me to be the best I can be," Freeman said. "It's just a family, as far as the running back culture."

James, who excelled at 180 to 190 pounds depending on the season, said he has encouraged Freeman to remain selfless, be a leader, allow his play to inspire others to work harder. He added that he would like nothing more than to see Freeman surpass him - again. Freeman last year broke James' single-season rushing mark.  

"Some people's egos get bruised but not mine," James said of having his records fall. "Every record I broke those guys were extremely happy for me. But I knew the records meant nothing in the long run. It's how you conduct yourself as a player."

Freeman said he hasn't given much thought to James' record. 

"Not really registering," he said. "I have a long way to go."

To get there, Freeman said he must continue to improve. Last season he worked on being better in open space. This season he wants to better use his weight as a weapon by running better "behind his pads," meaning using his power and pads as a weapon to inflict more damage. 

"I feel like that will compliment me as a bigger back," Freeman said. 

A better Freeman would certainly be a scarier Freeman for the Pac-12 to contend with.