All-purpose star Lionel ‘Little Train’ James dies at 59
Former San Diego Chargers and Auburn standout Lionel “Little Train” James died Friday. He was 59.
Auburn officials announced the death and said James died after a lengthy illness.
James earned the “Little Train” nickname due to his 5-foot-6 stature and surprising strength and he produced big on the field.
With the Chargers, he set an NFL record with 2,535 all-purpose yards in 1985 when legendary coach Don Coryell featured him all over the field and on both kickoff and punt returns. The mark stood for 15 yards and still ranks fourth in NFL history.
He also set an NFL record for receiving yards by a running back that season with 1,027. That mark remains second all-time after being passed by Marshall Faulk (1,048) of the St. Louis Rams in 1999.
Also in 1985, James led the AFC with 86 receptions, rushed for 516 yards, accumulated 779 yards on kickoff returns and had 213 on punt returns.
Overall, James caught 209 passes for 2,278 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 1,062 yards and four scores in 67 games (22 starts) with the Chargers from 1984-88. He returned two punts for touchdowns while averaging 9.6 yards per return and averaged 21.2 on kickoff returns.
At Auburn, James was in the same star-studded backfield as legendary Bo Jackson and future NFL player Tommy Agee.
He rushed for 2,068 yards and 12 touchdowns from 1980-83. The yardage ranks 18th in Auburn history and his 6.1 average per carry ranks fourth.
When James showed up at Auburn, he weighed just 150 pounds.
“Pound for pound one of the greatest all-purpose players to play the game of football,” Agee said through Auburn. “Always put the team first.”
Said current Tigers coach Bryan Harsin in a Twitter post: “Saddened to hear about the passing of @AuburnFootball great Lionel “Little Train” James. A true Auburn Man. Our condolences to the James family. Rest In Peace Lionel.”
James was a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in the 1984 draft.
James later served as tight ends coach at Auburn for two seasons (1996-97).
–Field Level Media