A year ago Kerryon Johnson was locking down a region championship for Madison Academy in his team’s last regular season home game.
On Saturday, the running back scored his first collegiate touchdown at Commonwealth Stadium against Kentucky.
When Johnson hit the end zone in the second quarter, untouched around the right side of Auburn’s offensive line on a 6-yard run, the significance of the accomplishment gave the former Alabama Mr. Football winner pause.
“It was huge…” Johnson said. “It’s kind of surreal because a couple months ago I was still in high school and now I’m scoring my first college touchdown.”
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It could be the first of many for Johnson in a Tigers’ uniform.
Coach Gus Malzahn saw Johnson’s ‘special ability’ early in fall camp, and has been working with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to make the 6-foot-0, 195-pounder a larger part of Auburn’s game plan.
“I think you will tend to see him do more and more,” Lashlee said. “He’s playing in some receiver, playing in the backfield, he’s still doing the Wildcat stuff. I thought he played tough.”
He did all of the above in a 30-27 win over Kentucky, catching one pass for 14 yards, running the ball nine times for a career-high 36 yards and returning four kicks for 111 yards.
On the season, he has 40 touches with 386 all-purpose yards.
“He’s got great instincts,” Lashlee said. “Some guys, you teach them certain things one time and they get it, just naturally know how to do it. He’s just one of those guys, we made a concerted effort Thursday night to get him on the field more and we did, and I think that was good for us.”
Lashlee was encouraged by Johnson’s effectiveness on third down situations. In the first half against Kentucky, Johnson was responsible for four first downs, and two of them came on third downs.
“He got hit pretty hard one time and he shook it off and stayed in there,” Lashlee said.
The wildcat formation Auburn debuted against San Jose State with Johnson as the central option is one area that the coaching staff believes has significant potential. Johnson, who wasn’t a quarterback in high school, calls the package a “work in progress.”
“That’s a formation you just have to get used to,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of practice. It’s still a work in progress but for now we have a lot of different elements to keep defenses on their feet. Just the line I have in front me is a hard line to stay in front of and stay competitive. I think I’m getting really good at it.”