Ever since LaMichael James was selected by San Francisco in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, 49ers Faithful have clamored to see the college superstar break off a run into the end zone.
James finally got that chance in last week's NFC Championship, when he rattled off a crucial 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to help the 49ers dig themselves out of a 17-0 hole. James' score proved to be the catalyst for an offense that completed the 28-24 comeback over the Falcons to reach the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.
James was inactive for the first 13 weeks of the season, but has been an integral part of the team's offense ever since fellow tailback Kendall Hunter went down with an injury.
On Thursday, James greeted a large Super Bowl media contingency at his locker and was asked if he remembered his previous touchdown before last week's.
"I definitely do not," James said.
For the record, James' final collegiate touchdown came on Jan. 2, 2012, when he scored in the first quarter of Oregon's Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin.
James said his touchdown in Atlanta was similar to the plays he ran college, as he was offset to the left of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, before blowing past the defense on a read option play to the right side of the line for a 15-yard touchdown.
Even though his first NFL touchdown came in the NFC Championship, James treated it as business as usual. In fact, he doesn't even know where the football is.
"I just think about the win," James said. "Anything to help the team win, I'm all for it. Just putting points on the board to help the team win made me excited, made me happy. I really didn't think about it too much. I just wanted to win the game."
Whenever James is in the backfield with Kaepernick, it poses a fast-paced problem for opposing defenses. Factor in both young players' proficiency in read option plays, and the defense is really on its heels.
In the past two playoff games, James and Kaepernick have helped each other score touchdowns.
In the Divisional Round win against Green Bay, the threat of James up the middle allowed Kaepernick to keep the ball and run around the right end of the line untouched for a 56-yard touchdown. In the NFC Title game, the defense was so focused on Kaepernick going up the middle that James caught just enough daylight to turn the corner and sprint into the end zone.
"When Colin's in the game, it adds another dimension to the offense," James said. "It's something I'm familiar with. Just being out there with him and running spread and being in there is kind of cool for me."
When you add 49ers rushing king Frank Gore into the equation, it's almost an embarrassment of riches for Greg Roman.
San Francisco's innovative offensive coordinator knew the 49ers drafted a heck of a player when they picked James in the draft. Roman also knew that James would have a big adjustment to make, as Oregon's offense never huddled and only used a handful of plays compared to the dense 49ers playbook.
But James bided his time and put in his work behind the scenes until making his NFL debut in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins.
"The bottom line is LaMichael's a football player," Roman said. "Anything football is not foreign to him. So, while he wasn't active earlier in the year, he gave our defense a great look in practice, which is very, very important to get the team ready. He just continued to make strides in understanding the entire offense and I think he's looked pretty good out there."
James admitted he didn't know what to expect when he arrived in the NFL. One thing is for sure, thought, it was a drastic change to go from the focal point of one of college football's all-time greatest offenses to a sideline spectator on Sundays.
But the young running back admittedly had a lot to learn, so he watched and listened from some of the best teammates and coaches in the business.
"Anytime you're a competitor, you want to be on the field helping the team win," James said. "I have to do it throughout practice. It doesn't give me an excuse to sit back here and slack off and not try to get better, because you just never know when your number's going to be called. I had to work hard in practice and then when my time came, I was ready to go."
About the only football stage bigger than the NFC Championship is the Super Bowl, where James and the 49ers will find themselves on Feb. 3 against Baltimore. James was just 6 years old when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis made his NFL debut, but will be facing the future Hall of Famer in his final game before retirement.
As vaunted as the Ravens defense is, James is more concerned with executing the gameplan for the 49ers offense.
"We're going to do what we do," James said. "It doesn't matter who's on the other side. We have to run our offense and take care of ourselves."