Feb. 25 (UPI) — Former Auburn Tigers and San Diego Chargers running back Lionel James died Friday after a lengthy illness, the school said. He was 59.
Auburn announced the death of James, but the university provided no additional details.
“Lionel James defined Auburn football for a generation,” David Housel, a former Auburn sports information director and athletic director, said in a statement.
James, who was listed at 5-foot-6 and weighed 150 pounds as a freshman at Auburn, earned the nickname “Little Train” because of his small stature. Despite his size, he quickly became one of the most popular players in Auburn football history.
James led Auburn in all-purpose yards in 1981 and 1982 and was one of the first signature players of the Pat Dye era. He was a team captain in 1983 and helped guide that Tigers team to their first Southeastern Conference title in 26 years.
That backfield also included 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson and another future NFL player, Tommie Agee, who called James “pound for pound one of the greatest all-purpose players to play the game of football.”
James later spent parts of five seasons with the NFL’s Chargers — who have since relocated to Los Angeles — after the franchise selected him in the fifth round of the 1984 draft. He set a league record with 2,535 all-purpose yards in the 1985 campaign after topping the Chargers in rushing, receiving and kickoff and punt return yardage.
In that same season, James led the AFC in receptions (86) while setting the NFL record for receiving yards by a running back (1,027).
James returned to Auburn after the conclusion of his NFL career and graduated in 1989. He coached tight ends on Terry Bowden’s staff from 1996-97.
James was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. He also was named to the Chargers’ 40th Anniversary Team.