For three years, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner was the backup to LaMichael James. Now that James is in the NFL, Barner is the primary ball carrier for the Ducks. On Saturday, the Wildcats will be tasked with stopping Barner. Against the UA in 2011, Barner ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
The Arizona Daily Wildcat spoke with Barner over the phone and talked about the UA, Chip Kelly and much more.
DW: A lot of people expected you to enter the NFL Draft after last season, why didn’t you?
Just taking the time to look back and reflect on the pros and cons of leaving and coming back, then also making promise to my mom back in 2010 about getting my degree. That played a major part and just talking to a lot of good people that led me in the right direction. I’m extremely happy. No other place in the world I’d rather be than right here right now.
How does it feel to be the primary ball carrier after backing up LaMichael James the last few years?
It feels great. Just, I felt it was a long time coming to finally get the opportunity. It feels awesome.
What was, or is, your relationship like with LaMichael?
That’s my best friend, he still is to this day. I talk to him every single day. Not a day that goes by that we don’t talk, whether it’s through text or over the phone, there’s not a single day that goes by. He’s like a brother to me.
How’s he liking it in San Francisco so far? (James plays for the 49ers)
He loves it. He can’t complain, he’s making money and after years and years of playing for free, he’s finally made it to where it’s paying off.
What have you seen out of (redshirt freshman quarterback) Marcus Mariota so far?
Nothing but good things. He’s been great … in that first game he was unbelievable in that first drive and in the Fresno State game he kind of faced a little controversy, but I think everybody wanted to see how he would react to that, how he would bounce back from that. I think he did an excellent job with that. Handling the team and handling the huddle. This kid has a very bright future. A very, very bright future.
How have you guys been so successful against Arizona in recent years?
You know just playing Oregon football. Doing things the way we’re supposed to do them. Work ethic, constantly grinding and not getting high, not getting too low when we have errors and make mistakes. We have to play Oregon football. That’s the way you beat any team, not just Arizona. Just be yourself and play within yourself.
LaMichael ran for almost 300 yards  against Arizona last year, can you match that?
That was a different team, with a different coaching staff, and that was LaMichael. So you know we’ll see what I’m able to do, as long as our line does a good job I think I can have a pretty good game.
What was your reaction when Arizona fans stormed the field during the Oregon-UA game in 2009 [Barner’s freshman year]?
Uh, you feel disrespected. There are four minutes left in the game. You have people coming down, I’m like ‘What?’ I think we all felt disrespected. There’s four minutes left and you already want to come on the field and that’s what I remember from that game and just that feeling of just complete disrespect.
Did that help you guys make the comeback and win?
We had it in us to do it. We just have to execute, that’s what it came down to. Their fans played no part in that.
Were you surprised about Stanford upsetting USC last week?
That’s Pac-12 football. You never know who can win, you never know who will win. Like I always say you just have to be the best on the field that day.
It was rumored over the summer that [Oregon head coach] Chip Kelly would be leaving to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, how did you react to that?
I just wanted to sit and be quiet and see because none of us really knew what was going on, we just wanted to see what came about. As an individual you have to make the best decision for you. But I was happy for him to come back.
What’s he like as a coach?
He’s a great coach. He’s a genius. I’ve said it time and time again, I’ve never some across someone with the type of genius Coach Kelly brings to this team. Just his ability to come up with things, it’s crazy. It’s hard to explain but he’s an absolute genius.