AUBURN | It’s been a good first two seasons at Auburn for Kerryon Johnson, but perhaps a little below expectations for the former Rivals100 running back.
Injuries have slowed his progress including a high ankle sprain last fall and shoulder surgery following his freshman season that kept him out of workouts and practices the first half of 2016.
It's been a completely different offseason this year.
“I really thought it was important for KJ to get a really solid winter conditioning program and he's really done that,” Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said. “He's really never had an offseason program because of high school basketball and shoulder surgeries so he's had a nice spring.”
Johnson, who is listed at 212 pounds on the preseason roster, managed to play in 12 of 13 games last season despite the injury. He rushed for 895 yards and 11 touchdowns on 182 carries.
“I think one of the things that has given Kerryon a problem the two years he's been here is just the durability aspect,” Horton said. “You play tailback in the SEC in an offense that's going to run the ball a great deal, he's going to get hit and he's going to get hit a lot.”
Horton expects the work Johnson has been able to put in the weight room during winter and summer workouts to pay big dividends this fall and allow the junior to be more durable.
“I've always believed that's one of the great things the weight room enables you to do,” Horton said. “If you're stronger you can take the hits a little bit better. You can recover quicker. The weight room is part of the recovery process as well. That's something that's really helped his stock go up the last two or three months is how well he's pushed himself in the weight room.”
Johnson is expected to enter the 2017 season as the backup to junior Kamryn Pettway, who rushed for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns on 209 carries last season. If Pettway is slowed with an injury or even just needs a breather, Horton expects Johnson to offer the same production.
“I have no question about that, none whatsoever,” Horton said. “He gained a little over 900 yards last year and he missed bulks of games. If he would have stayed healthy I think you're looking at two 1,200-yard rushers last year.”
While Johnson may not have reached his full potential on the field just yet, he’s been excelling in other areas as a student athlete.
“He's first class,” Horton said. “He comes from a first-class family. He's got great personality. He's got good balance in his life. He wants to be a good student. He wants to be a good player. He wants to be a good friend. He's really everything we're looking for in an Auburn man.
“I'm really blessed because we've got a great group of running backs. Not just good players, but they're really good people that want to get better, coachable, all those things.”