AUBURN, Ala. — In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Kansas City Chiefs had the “Nigerian Nightmare.” In 2016, Auburn has the “Prattville Punisher.”
Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway leads the SEC in rushing with 933 yards heading into the Tigers’ upcoming matchup with Vanderbilt. On Wednesday during the SEC coaches teleconference, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason compared the 240-pound Pettway to former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.
“Kamryn Pettway is extremely talented,” Mason said. “He’s got great foot speed and extremely good vision for a man his size. For a big man, he has patience in the hole. He hits it hard and can run downhill. He can run away from you, and he runs through arm tackles. Reminds me of Christian Okoye.”
Okoye weighed 253 pounds in the NFL, where he was a two-time Pro Bowler and the 1989 rushing champion with 1,480 yards. While injuries shortened his career, he left his mark as one of the best big running backs in football history.
Mason isn’t the only coach who has made the Okoye comparison for Pettway, a sophomore from Prattville, Ala. Last week, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee saw the similarities in the two bruising rushers.
“Someone’s gotta be old-school and go Christian Okoye or something from the Chiefs back in the day,” Lashlee said on October 26. “The thing that’s incredible about Pettway is when he gets to the second level, people are kind of getting out of the way. As (Auburn offensive line coach Herb) Hand likes to say, people are making business decisions when he gets to the second level.
“That’s why you see everybody trying to tackle him low, but he’s able to go downhill, north-south and be a one-cut runner. He just, he goes north-south at such a rate that is unusual for big guys.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn didn’t want to commit to the Okoye comparison during his time on the Wednesday teleconference. However, he spoke highly of Pettway’s ability to hurt opposing defenses with his physical style.
“(Pettway) wears on some teams, there’s no doubt about that,” Malzahn said Wednesday. “He does get stronger as the game gets going on. He loves the physical part of the game, and he has worn some people down.”
Pettway embraces that physical role for Auburn’s offense. Following his 236-yard performance against Ole Miss, Pettway told the SEC Network that “no one really wants to tackle me … I want to bring the pain to you.”
Although Pettway leads the SEC in rushing, Malzahn believes there’s a lot more to come from his young running back.
“The way that he’s responded, he’s getting more and more confidence and getting more and more comfortable each week,” Malzahn said. “He’s getting used to our offensive line, and they’ve done an excellent job, too … Right now, every time we give it to him, I think he’s getting more confidence.”