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Auburn football: 2015 commit Kerryon Johnson takes realist perspective, undaunted by Tigers' RB depth

AUBURN, Ala. — The last thing on Kerryon Johnson's mind is Auburn's depth at running back. A 2015 commit, Johnson would join a crowded Tigers' backfield next fall, including a third-year sophomore in Peyton Barber and two true sophomores in Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway. And then there's Jovon Robinson, the other running back pledge the Tigers have received for 2015.

But Johnson is a realist.

There's no way he's going to know the playbook better than the three players already on campus.

"Me and Jovon are getting there the same year and those other guys are going to have experience over us," Johnson said in a phone interview earlier this week. "They're going to know certain things about how the game operates at the college level and how in-depth the game is that me and Jovon don't. But I'm not worried about it at all. I've just got to show up and do my thing."

Johnson believed there's another factor working in his favor: He's not strictly a running back. During his recruitment, the Tigers' coaching staff stressed that they would love to take advantage of his top-flight pass-catching ability, splitting him out and allowing him to take reps at receiver.

If anything, Johnson has options.

"I feel like I have an advantage being able to play receiver," he said. "So if they're set at running back, maybe I can pitch in it at receiver, so it gives me two different spots I can get playing time at for different reasons. "

First and foremost, however, he fancies himself a running back. On paper, the position is crowded, sure. And if that means he has to wait his turn, so be it.

"That's not going to hurt you at all. You're getting to learn the game," Johnson said. "You're also getting the chance to build up your physicality that you're going to have to have in the SEC."

Johnson admitted he "isn't the biggest" running back you'll come across. Right now, he's 200 pounds. By the start of the season, he'd like to be 205. And when he begins college, he hopes to tip the scales at 210 pounds. But he knows what kind of workload he's capable of taking on without breaking down.

That's why he's more than happy to share the wealth.

"I understand that you play a long season. You play a lot of long seasons in your career, and those hits add up," he said. "There are only so many hits you can take. So to me, that's just preserving your body and keeping you fresh. Let's say you get 14 carries last week and another guy got 25. Then the next week it flips. So you're fresh and your teammates are fresh."

Still, he's been asked on numerous occasions why he picked Auburn, especially given the competition he'll have to beat out to become the starter. Johnson simply points to his other two finalists, Alabama and Florida State. It would be the same situation at those places, too.

He's a realist, remember?

"When you have Auburn, Alabama and Florida State as your top three, you're not going to come in as a freshman and dominate and get massive playing time," he said. "It's a whole different game. Maybe T.J. Yeldon was able to do that, but (for the most part) that's not how the game is. That's rare."

The deciding factor among the three powerhouses was hard for Johnson to describe.

He just felt a synergy with Auburn that wasn't present in Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee.

"People say when you get to the right place, you'll feel it," he said. "And that couldn't be more true for me. I just felt right at home. That's not saying Florida State or Alabama had a 'bad feel' at all. It's just that feeling you get when you know something's right that was what I felt at Auburn."

Johnson doesn't foresee his commitment to the Tigers changing. He still plans to take a few official visits later this year, though, stopping by all three of his finalists plus "another school or two that might sneak in there." But those visits won't come until middle or late December.

That timeframe is no coincidence, either.

All of his efforts this fall are solely on the gridiron. This led him to quit basketball. After helping Madison Academy (Ala.) win the Class 3A title each of the past two years, he doesn't plan on letting the Mustangs come up short of a three-peat.

"I have my focus on this season. That's my top priority right now," Johnson said. "It's my senior season. I want to do it right, so my focus needs to be in the right place."

And all the individual accolades he's received the past three years have been nice, too. Every major recruiting service considers him among the top five players in the nation at his position for the 2015 class. But as Johnson astutely noted, the stars signify nothing more than people's opinions.

Realistic as ever, Johnson said production is paramount.

"People who don't have high rankings go pro. People without those high rankings go to college and they can do very well, too," he said. "So some of that is based on who goes to the most camps, but then there are other people you never see who are really good players, too. So the rankings are nice to have and all, but the bottom line is that what matters more is who shows up on Friday nights or in a college game on a Saturday."

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