Auburn's Pettway went from blocker to 1 of SEC's top runners

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn tailback Kamryn Pettway came into the regular season as a converted fullback who had blocked for the ball carriers in college but never actually been one.

He ended it contemplating, at least briefly, a jump to the NFL. In between, the 6-foot, 240-pounder emerged as one of the Southeastern Conference's top running backs when healthy and helped propel the 17th-ranked Tigers to the Sugar Bowl Jan. 2 against No. 7 Oklahoma.

''For him to step up and play running back and really only be healthy or starting running back for eight of those games and be first-team All-SEC, I think that says a lot,'' Auburn guard Alex Kozan said. ''It says all that needs to be said. He's a hell of a player.''

Pettway's emergence boosted a backfield that had lost three tailbacks from last season to the NFL (Peyton Barber), dismissal (Jovon Robinson) or transfer (Roc Thomas).

The Tigers didn't miss them much when Pettway was healthy. He missed two of the final three games with an injury to his left quad and didn't even log a carry in the first game.

Or all of last season, for that matter.

Pettway wound up rushing for 1,123 yards and averaging a league-best 124.8 yards per game. He felt he could be an elite back entering the season, but his college resume consisted of a redshirt year and, statistically, an 8-yard kick return last season.

Pettway said his emergence as an elite SEC back wasn't a surprise to him but adds: ''I surprised a lot of other people.''

''I believed deep down in my mind that I could, but I mean, everybody else hadn't had a chance to see it,'' he said. ''I just felt like I needed an opportunity to show it.''

The season put Pettway on the radar of some NFL teams as a potential draft pick, but he announced on social media that he planned to return for his fourth season to complete ''some unfinished business.''

The married father of 1-year-old daughter Kaisley talked about the decision with his parents and wife Natonya, whom he met as a freshman at Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Alabama. That unfinished business includes graduating and presumably proving he's not a one-year wonder.

''It's my degree for one, but I want to have a good, healthy season,'' Pettway said. ''A full, complete season.''

He returned to action in the regular-season finale against No. 1 Alabama but was held to 17 yards by the nation's top defense.

Pettway, who was injured at the end of a long run against Vanderbilt , said he was about 90 percent healthy for that game. Now, he and quarterback Sean White (shoulder) are both back and apparently recovered for the Sugar Bowl.

Pettway played a starring role in Auburn's six-game winning streak that propelled the Tigers into SEC Western Division contention. During the final four games of that stretch, he averaged 30 carries and 192 yards.

Now, he's back in the backfield with White and 862-yard rusher Kerryon Johnson, who was also slowed by an ankle injury late in the season.

They'll face a big challenge in the Sooners, who are riding a nine-game winning streak. A healthy backfield certainly helps Auburn's chances.

''It feels great being healthy,'' Pettway said. ''I'm 100 percent now. I can run full speed, so I'm just ready for the bowl game.''

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