Orlando Pettway had one thought on his mind watching his sure-footed son stumble at midfield without a defender in sight.
“I was praying it wasn’t his knee,” Pettway said.
Kamryn Pettway’s father was in the stands at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn’s starting running back injured his left leg on a 60-yard run against Vanderbilt.
The sophomore would have easily crossed the goal line for a touchdown, but the play ended with him awkwardly falling to the ground at the Commodores 10-yard line.
Fans collectively held their breath as the 6-foot-0, 240-pounder hopped to the sidelines without putting any weight on his leg.
“He said it felt kind of like a cramp or Charley horse,” Orlando Pettway said. “He couldn’t finish the run. He told me he had to go down.”
After the game, coach Gus Malzahn announced the running back “pulled something.” It wasn’t the worst-case scenario Orlando Pettway briefly envisioned, but it wasn’t something his son was able to just walk off.
The SEC’s then-leading rusher travelled to Athens the next week with his teammates, but didn’t dress for the game.
Auburn’s coaching staff has been reluctant to talk about Kamryn Pettway’s injury even offering conflicting reports of his participation in practice leading up to the Georgia game.
“He wanted to play, but I think the hard part is that he knew it was a serious nagging injury,” Orlando Pettway said. “I think he knew he couldn’t play (against Georgia). It was more serious than he originally thought. He told me he couldn’t put pressure on the leg initially.”
Kamryn Pettway sat out a second straight game Saturday night.
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he is optimistic many of the players the coaching staff held out of the 55-0 win over Alabama A&M will be available for the Iron Bowl, but didn’t mention Pettway’s name specifically.
Orlando Pettway isn’t sure if his son will play in the Iron Bowl, but fans would see No. 36 on the field Saturday in Tuscaloosa if the decision is up to Kamryn Pettway.
“He’s looked forward to this moment since he was a kid,” Orlando Pettway said. “He’s staying upbeat. This is a game he wants to play. He’s hoping to get that opportunity.”
A healthy Kamryn Pettway would have a comfortable lead for the SEC’s rushing title going into Auburn’s regular season finale.
It’s a scenario Pettway has played out in his head the last two weeks sitting on the bench with a leg injury.
“He’s taking it all in stride, but he’s joked about how he should have 1,500 yards right now,” Orlando Pettway said.
Kamryn Pettway still has an outside shot at the SEC’s rushing crown — Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III leads the conference with 1,209 yards — but Pettway would probably need an effort similar to the 236 yards he put up against Mississippi to make up the 103 yard difference.
There’s serious potential for disappointment given Pettway’s questionable status and Alabama’s stout run defense. Teams are averaging 68 rushing yards per game against the Crimson Tide this season.
Leading the SEC in rushing is one of the goals the Montgomery native made for himself when coaches shifted him over to his original position full-time at the start of fall camp.
Given everything Kamryn Pettway has overcome, his father isn’t ruling anything out.
“ It was a hard moment when he didn’t play after the first game,” Orlando Pettway said. “He wasn’t so sure anymore that he would even get an opportunity. I told him to just believe and trust in everything we prayed for. He kept the faith through the ride the whole way and still has a shot.”
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Kamryn Pettway among the top draft-eligible running back earlier this month.
Kiper ranked the top 10 players at each position with Pettway No. 7 on his list of running backs.
The third-year sophomore would have to forgo his final two years of eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
“It’s nothing we predicted, but maybe we should have,” Orlando Pettway said. “If he accomplished even half of what we knew he was capable of it would put him in this position. It’s honestly something we never thought about.”
Former Auburn running back Peyton Barber faced the same choice at the end of last season. Barber surprised coaches when he made the decision to leave the Plains.
The NCAA has a mid-January deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. Players can ask the NFL’s College Advisory Committee to evaluate their draft prospects in December.
Kamryn Pettway, who is married with a one-year old daughter, would have his parents blessing if he decided to pursue his NFL dreams, but Orlando Pettway isn’t sure his son will want to hand in his Auburn uniform after the season.
“I think he will want another shot,” Pettway said. “He also graduates in May, which is something I know is important to him. I think that could all factor in.”