Clemons working into form after injuries
Remember Josh Clemons? Remember when he rushed for 126 on 14 carries and broke that record-breaking 87-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan in 2011? When so many thought he would be a Kentucky's star back for the next four years?
That may seem like a distant memory since Clemons has missed the last two seasons with injury, the first coming after tearing his ACL his freshman season and the subsequent rehabilitation. Then the tailback missed last season after suffering an achilles injury during preseason practices last fall.
But now Clemons is back on the field and ready to make an impact this season.
"Physically, I'm 100 percent," Clemons said. "Learning-wise, I'm a lot better than I was in the spring. So I'm getting pretty comfortable with what we're doing on offense."
The redshirt junior rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown in the spring game and showed little sign of the ailments that sidelined him for over two years. Clemons is confident his running style hasn't changed.
"I feel like I'm the same. Once I got my movement back, I feel like I can do anything I want to do," he said. "I like going north and south, going between the tackles, but I also like stretching the defense and puncturing the alleys that they leave."
In addition to being fine physically, Clemons said he suffers no mental hang ups due to his injuries, that there's too much else to worry about -- blocking assignments, routes, carrying the ball -- when the ball is snapped.
And after spending so much time in the training room and going through rehab, Clemons just wants to focus on football for a change.
After rehabbing his knee, Clemons required a scope, lengthening his recovery time and necessitating a redshirt. After working his way back last year, the achilles injury relegated him back to rehab.
"It was tough at first, but as I got farther along in the process, it was just work to me," he said. "Like working out or coming out here to practice. I enjoy working hard."
Not once did Clemons contemplate hanging up his cleats. He had plenty of motivation to drive him through recovery.
"Faith first, family and just my teammates," he said. "They believe in me, so I wanted to go out there and work my hardest to get back."
Clemons' father Charlie Clemons played a big role in his son's rehab process. The elder Clemons played linebacker in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans and suffered an achilles injury of his own during his career.
Back home in Georgia, father and son workouts helped strengthen Josh's body and wise advice bolstered his spirit.
"Just to control the things that I can control," Clemons said his father told him. "Whether I'm in the rehab room -- you can't get too mad about because that's what you have to deal with. So work hard in there and eventually you'll get on the field. Work hard on the field and then you'll get to the game and then make plays."
Coaches are being cautious with Clemons, keeping him out of shoulder pads some days to be sure he's healthy by season's arrival. Clemons will be part of the deepest running back rotation UK has had in sometime. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard and sophomore Jojo Kemp are ahead on the depth chart. Newcomers Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams figure to be a factor, as well.
Clemons has been helping the freshmen adjust.
"Just talking to Boom and Mikel, trying to keep their head up when they make mistakes, because we all make mistakes," he said. "You just gotta get in the film room, correct them and come back out here and play like they never happened so you don't make more."
With so many options in the backfield, Clemons hasn't set specific goals for the season ahead, focusing instead on executing in practice and doing whatever the coaches tell him. He hopes that results in carries for first downs and touchdowns.
Clemons will likely be eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver and add another year of eligibility to his career, but that's not something he's thought about much.
And though those freshman highlights may be hazy in fans' minds, Clemons hopes the rest of his career can leave a lasting impression on their memories.
"I want to get back out there for my last two years and make plays and motivate my teammates," he said. "That's how I want to be remembered: as a guy who worked hard to get back and never gave up."