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Anne M. Peterson | The Associated Press | December 21, 2016

Oregon RB Freeman to return for senior season

  RB Royce Freeman will make new coach Willie Taggart's transition a bit easier by sticking around another year.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman says he'll return to the Ducks for his senior year.

Freeman, who was hampered by injuries this season, announced his decision through the school Wednesday. He was the Ducks' leading rusher this season with 945 yards in 11 games.

Freeman has rushed for 4,146 yards over three seasons with the Ducks, second only to LaMichael James (5,082 yards) on Oregon's career rushing list.

"After consulting with my family and giving this considerable thought, I feel this is the best decision for me in regards to my future on and off the field," said Freeman, a crime, law and society major. "My education was one of the most important reasons I chose to come to Oregon and that priority hasn't changed."

Freeman was widely considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy going into the season, but he was injured three weeks into the season at Nebraska and missed Oregon's game against Colorado the next week.

Oregon finished 4-8 overall and at the bottom of the Pac-12 North standings at 2-7 — snapping a run of nine straight winning seasons in conference play.

Following a loss to rival Oregon State in the final game of the season, Freeman said he had not made up his mind about whether he would leave school early for the NFL draft.

Three days after the Civil War loss, Oregon dismissed coach Mark Helfrich. The Ducks have since hired Willie Taggart, head coach at South Florida for the past four years, to replace Helfrich.

In a statement released Wednesday by the Ducks, Freeman thanked Helfrich and running backs coach Gary Campbell.

"However, the prospect of playing for Coach Taggart my final year here was certainly a factor in my return," Freeman said. "His enthusiasm and vision for this program are contagious. I am certainly excited to be coached by him and enhance my development."

Taggart likewise said he was excited at the prospect of Freeman's return, calling it one of the "top recruiting coups" of his first two weeks on the job.

"Royce represents the type of young man that we intend to build this program around," Taggart said. "Not only does he stand out as one of the top running backs in the country, he epitomizes the character of the type of student-athlete we are looking for as well as the work ethic of someone who truly wants to be here."

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In his first three seasons, Freeman has epitomized the speed in Oregon's hyper-drive offense. The 230-pound power back ran for 1,836 yards as a sophomore last season to break James' season record at Oregon.

Freeman, who hails from Imperial, California, burst on the scene as a freshman, rushing for 1,365 yards — a Pac-12 true freshman record — and 18 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass. As a result, he was named the league's freshman of the year on offense.

Freeman has 44 rushing touchdowns for his career, trailing only James with 53. Earlier this season Freeman spoke about making his way up Oregon's record lists.

"It's pretty amazing," he said. "It's a good feeling knowing the previous backs that came before me and all the hard work they put in at this university. Knowing of those guys and actually talking to some of them personally, to have the ability to pass them makes me feel good."

This article was written by Anne M. Peterson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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