Tim Horton is looking for another 1,000-yard rusher to add to his stable of successful running backs
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Tim Horton says he's been lucky to be in a systems that produce big-time running backs who have routinely rushed for 1,000 yards.
Lucky, he says. He's real modest, too.
The running backs coach who has sent Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Knile Davis to 1,000-yard seasons is looking for more top running backs at Auburn for the 2015 season. He says Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson provide a strong foundation.
"I'm real pleased with the group. I think it will be one of the real strengths of the team," Horton said.
Horton says the secret to 1,000-yard rushers is "a system that enables you to do that."
"Obviously, at Auburn, we've got that. Where I was before (at Arkansas), we had that. That's probably as big a factor as any. Let's not kid yourself and think you're a guru coach. We've had talent. You can't win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey."
Two of his race horses ― Mason and McFadden ― were finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
Horton says he's looks for more than yards when assessing talent. "The quality I put a whole lot of stock in is: I want a good kid who understands work ethic. If they do that, then you can get better and see them mature and see them improve."
Horton says Thomas and Barber, reserves last year but still his most experienced backs, are at the head of the class heading into Saturday's scrimmage.
"You look at three things: How well they've prepared, how well they've practiced and ultimately how well they've performed," Horton said. "When you talk about performance, most of the time you're talking about the game. You're also talking about performance on scrimmage days. I think you've got to earn the right to play, too.
"Right now, I would say Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber have earned the right to play. Who's going to be in there first? I couldn't tell you. I don't know if that's really important. Both of those guys have earned that right, and they'll both play. They've both been very good.
"We've got a very competitive room. It's really good competition, but it's healthy competition. I'm real pleased with those two, but I'm real pleased with all four of them."
Here's what all four of them did last season: Thomas rushed for 214 yards on 43 carries, and is Auburn's leading returner rusher; Barber rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries; Robinson was named the nation's top running back, though slowed by injury, when he rushed for 811 yards at Georgia Military; and Johnson was named the state's Mr. Football after rushing for 1,659 yards at Madison Academy.
Johnson is the new guy, and he's impressed.
"I'm really pleased the way K.J. has picked things up," Horton said. "He's explosive. He can make a play. He's got a burst. He's a good player."
Robinson, Horton said, "probably wasn't performing at the standard that we look for, on and off the field, early. But I'm real pleased how he's done the last three or four days."
Horton says Robinson is catching on.
"There's just a certain standard, a professionalism that we want our groups to perform in, whether it's being on time for a meeting or paying attention when you're not playing or whatever it might be. Some kids it's real easy for them, like K.J. And then some it probably hasn't been demanded of them in the past, but it is now."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine