AUBURN, Ala. — Kerryon Johnson enters his third season with Auburn football in 2017. However, this offseason has been a new experience for the junior running back.
For the first time in his career, Johnson is fully participating in an offseason solely dedicated to improving on the football field. According to running backs coach Tim Horton, that should make Johnson a stronger and more durable Tiger this fall.
“I thought it was really important for (Johnson) to get a really solid winter conditioning, and he’s really done that,” Horton said Tuesday. “He’s really never had an offseason program because of high school basketball and shoulder surgery. He’s had a nice spring as well.”
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Johnson was an all-state football and basketball player at Madison (Ala.) Academy, so he jumped into another sport right after football season.
The former Mr. Football for the state of Alabama also missed all of spring practice in 2016 because of an offseason shoulder surgery. Health has been somewhat of an issue for Johnson at Auburn, as he missed nearly two entire games in the middle of last season with an ankle injury.
“I think one of the things that has given Kerryon a problem both 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, I mean, he’s going to get hit. And he’s going to get hit a lot. I think being able to hold up and be more durable is something that he’ll be able to do.”
The Tigers need Johnson to stay healthy this fall. They missed Johnson and starter Kamryn Pettway, who led the SEC in rushing yards per game, for key stretches of the 2016 campaign. That pushed Johnson to grow as a running back in the offseason and solidify Auburn’s depth at running back.
“We all realize that in this league, anything could happen,” Johnson said earlier this month. “You’ve just got to always adapt. We proved that last year. You’ve got to be able to prepare yourself like you’re a starter. Coach Horton does a good job of that, making sure we get all the same reps, all the same mental reps. He’s just always making sure we’re prepared when our name is called upon.”
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Horton said he’s pleased with the progress Johnson made in the weight room this offseason. The dynamic running back, who rushed for 895 yards last season, now weighs a sturdier 211 pounds.
A stronger Johnson should also be a healthier and all-around better Johnson during the 2017 season.
“I believe that’s one of the great things about the weight room,” Horton said. “If you’re stronger, you can take the hits a little bit better. You can recover a little bit quicker. I think the weight room is part of the recovery process as well. I think that’s something that’s really helped his stock go up the last two or three months — how well he’s pushed himself in that weight room.”