Oregon’s 2 big names both facing court proceedings
AP Sports Writer
Running back LaMichael James and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli appear separately in court on Friday, the latest turn in a tumultuous winter for the Oregon Ducks.
But beyond the eventual outcome in either case, a larger issue looms: How will coach Chip Kelly handle his two star players, given the questions that some of his disciplinary actions have raised in the recent past?
James, who set a Pac-10 freshman record with more than 1,500 yards rushing last season, will appear in Lane County Circuit Court on misdemeanor charges of menacing, strangulation and assault.
A woman who says she was James’ girlfriend claims he grabbed her neck and pushed her to the ground during an argument outside his apartment on Feb. 15.
James had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, but has told the court he is changing his plea. No details were available.
Deputy District Attorney Patricia Perlow said she would not comment on the matter, and attorney Michael Buseman, who represents James, did not return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Masoli will be in the same courtroom later in the day for an arraignment on a second-degree burglary charge, a felony. The count involves the theft of two laptops and a guitar from a campus fraternity house in late January.
Also charged in the alleged theft was former receiver Garrett Embry, whom Kelly dismissed from the team earlier in January for an unrelated violation of team rules.
In a statement, Kelly said he is “carefully considering the latest news concerning” both Masoli and James and will make a decision regarding disciplinary action on Friday.
Kelly, who made his head coaching debut with Oregon last season, has already faced some tough disciplinary decisions regarding his players.
In Oregon’s season-opening loss at Boise State last September, running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos defensive end in the onfield chaos following the game.
Kelly moved swiftly, suspending Blount for the season the very next day. While some saw the punishment as too harsh, most agreed that it was important for Kelly to set a zero-tolerance tone for his program from the start.
Blount missed eight games, but was kept on scholarship and was allowed to practice with the team. He was eventually reinstated by Kelly in mid-November after meeting certain academic and behavior criteria.
The move was criticized because of what some suggested was the message it sent. Kelly, however, was steadfast in his support of Blount.
James benefited from Blount’s absence, rushing for 1,546 yards last season as a freshman, the ninth-highest total in the nation and the most ever by a Pac-10 freshman. He had seven consecutive 100-yard games before Ohio State limited him to 70 in Oregon’s 26-17 loss in the Rose Bowl.
Kelly did not take any action against James at the time of his arrest, preferring to wait until the outcome of the case.
Kelly also waited when it came to Masoli. The police never commented on the alleged crime because it was an ongoing investigation and Masoli was never publicly named a suspect.
Masoli threw for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 668 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Led in large part by Masoli and James, Oregon made a remarkable comeback from that opening loss to Boise State and won its first Pac-10 title since 2001. The Ducks earned their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1995.
So naturally the focus will fall more on Friday on Kelly – and his decision regarding Oregon’s two stars – than on the courthouse.
It has been an offseason of disarray for the Ducks, with several players in trouble.
Kelly’s decisions on discipline – coupled with a wait-and-see stance concerning Masoli and James – have raised eyebrows.
Placekicker Rob Beard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge last week for his role in a Jan. 24 street fight that left him seriously injured.
Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said at Beard’s sentencing Friday that the 19-year-old was so drunk he doesn’t remember shoving a woman to the ground before he was beaten unconscious by two men who intervened on the woman’s behalf.
Beard, who remained on Oregon’s active roster, was placed on probation.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso pleaded not guilty to drunken driving charges in Eugene Municipal Court last week. Kelly suspended Alonso for the 2010 season upon learning of the arrest.
Defensive end Matt Simms was dismissed by Kelly after he was cited on assault charges last month. Simms pleaded guilty to physical harassment for striking a man he thought had beaten Beard.