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Oregon running back LaMichael James began last year as an obscure, undersized backup to hyped starter LeGarrette Blount, and ended it as one of the nation's leading rushers. According to reports from the Northwest this morning, he begins this year by facing domestic abuse charges that could carry jail time:

LaMichael James, star running back for the Oregon Ducks, is in Lane County Jail, arrested Wednesday morning on domestic violence charges.

James has been charged with assault-4, which is a misdemeanor that carries a potential one-year prison term, as well as strangulation and menacing.

James was booked at 3 a.m., according to Lane County's database, but specifics -- including the university's response -- are still to come. There is a mug shot.

James is the top returning rusher in the Pac-10 and one of only six players nationally coming back off a 1,500-yard season on the ground. His absence in the fall, along with the exits of Blount and fellow senior Andre Crenshaw, would leave one of the coveted tailback jobs in the nation (four different runners have gone over 1,000 yards in three years since now-head coach Chip Kelly took over the offense) wide open for incoming freshman Lache Seastrunk, the Ducks' most hyped recruit since soon-to-be first-round draft pick Jonathan Stewart signed in 2005.

By itself, James' arrest is another notch to Oregon's month of hell: In a little more than three weeks, the Ducks have seen their star quarterback and another player implicated by witnesses (though not charged) in a campus robbery; their starting kicker badly beaten and later charged with assaulting a girl in a massive brawl that apparently included another kicker, prompting a vigilante reprisal by yet another teammate; and now their All-American running back booked on a sinister-sounding count of domestic violence. All three backups and scout-teamers in that sextet have already been shuffled off the roster. As for the starters, the respective fates of James and QB Jeremiah Masoli are pending, but judging from coach Chip Kelly's swift suspension of LeGarrette Blount after he blew a fuse at Boise State last September, there won't be any hesitation to put any of the team's bigger names on ice if necessary.

Of course, if James is facing possible jail time, there may be no choice. Who would've thought five months ago that Blount would come out looking like one of the better apples in that backfield?

[UPDATE, 4:02 p.m. ET] The Oregonian provides a few details from the local police:

According to Sgt. Tom Borchers of the Springfield Police Department, James was taken into custody Tuesday, a day after getting into a fight with his girlfriend.

James’ girlfriend, according to the police report, said the running back grabbed her around the neck and pushed her to the ground. She complained of pain to her neck and of abrasions from being pushed down in a parking lot.

Also of interest: James was charged with assault in June 2008 in an apparent fight among rival high schools; those charges were dropped last year. Ex-head coach and current athletic director Mike Bellotti (who recruited both James and Jeremiah Masoli, who had served time in a juvenile detention facility for armed robbery as a teenager) doesn't sound anxious to put his foot down: "We'll let the legal system run its course and then obviously we'll step in and do what's necessary."

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