UK football: Josh Clemons rushing back into form after long layoff

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2013 

The video of the longest run in Commonwealth Stadium history is on YouTube for anyone to see, but Josh Clemons would rather watch something else.

It has been more than 18 months since Clemons gave Kentucky football fans a glimpse of his potential — bouncing off several Central Michigan defenders just past the line of scrimmage and turning on the jets for an 87-yard touchdown romp down the right sideline.

That happened Sept. 10, 2011, and Clemons hasn't been in the end zone since.

And that video (check it out here) just reminds him of all the touchdown-free time between then and now.

Clemons was UK's leading rusher as a true freshman when a torn meniscus ended his season four weeks later. He was expected to return last fall, but his knee started swelling after practices, and he missed the entire 2012 season.

Now, a new chapter for UK football could also be a fresh start for Clemons.

"I'm feeling good," he said with a big smile after Monday's practice. "This is the best I've felt in a long time; I'm not going to lie to you."

The sophomore running back has participated in four of UK's five practices this spring. The only one he missed was Saturday, and that's because the team had practiced Friday and his coaches are trying to ease him back to health.

For a player itching to get back on the field, no back-to-back practices is bad news.

The good news: There has been no swelling or soreness for Clemons this time around.

And he's going full speed.

"He's doing everything," UK running backs coach Chad Scott said. "He's not been held back from anything we're doing. And it's a confidence deal with him also. When he goes, he's fine. He has to continue to trust his leg, trust that the trainers are taking good care of him and just go out there and play."

Trusting that right knee was tough at first.

Clemons acknowledged being a little hesitant to put much weight on it during the opening day of spring practice. After having to sit and watch his teammates for a season and a half, he was scared that too much pressure would bring back the swelling.

Scott quickly told him that he would have to give it a try at some point.

"When we first came out, he wouldn't cut off his leg," Scott said. "He would always cut off the fresh leg. And that's one of the first things I told him: 'You've got to trust your leg. If you're going to hurt it, it's going to hurt. There's nothing you can do about that.' He has gotten better.

"He had a long run a couple of days ago, and I think that gave him confidence, because he cut off that leg."

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Monday that senior Raymond Sanders has been the standout running back so far this spring.

Brown said Clemons, along with senior Jonathan George, are the "next guys" behind Sanders as the UK backs try to pick up a new system that includes more pass catching and blitz protection.

Clemons wasn't familiar with his new coaches when they were hired. He "looked them all up on Google" and was excited by what he read.

"It's a lot of energy, man," he said. "They're out there working us hard every play. We forget the last play and we're moving on to the next play. They're just coaching the mistake and not the player."

Scott, a former UK running back himself, was plenty familiar with Clemons.

The UK assistant said Clemons showed a lot of potential during his freshman season. Scott grinned at the reminder of Clemons' 87-yard run in Commonwealth Stadium. "I've seen that," he said.

When told that Clemons was all smiles after his fourth pain-free practice of the spring, Scott said there was a good reason.

"He had a good day today," he said. "He should smile. I was smiling too.

"He had a lot of promise, and he still has that promise. He just has to trust that leg."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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