ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It was before the first road trip of the season and Kerryon Johnson sat in the meeting room along with the rest of the Detroit Lions running backs. He was told that players dressed up for road games. Johnson had questions.
This just wasn’t something he was used to – being a rookie and all.
Johnson asked about shoes and suit and ties, mostly because this was all new for him. And while he wanted to create a good impression, he isn’t as image-conscious – at least about things like fashion – as some of his peers.
“He’s not the most flashy guy,” former Lions running back Ameer Abdullah said. “He’s not the guy that’s trying to be the most fashionable or anything like that.”
While many players come into the league wanting to show off style, the rookie isn’t bothered by all that. It’s not him. He’s more comfortable in adidas than Armani – always has been.
Johnson owned one suit – his draft-day suit – when the Lions took him in the second round in April. So his wardrobe needed a makeover.
“First of all, I never had to dress up for a game,” Johnson said. “I probably dressed up a handful of times. You know, I just needed some suggestions on what to wear, what not to wear. I hate dressing up, so just needed some help.”
His parents were willing to help. Johnson said they often will go and find his new threads. Then he’ll show up for the fitting, often during off days and back in training camp. Almost all of his dress clothes were purchased within the last year.
The lack of off-field flash contradicts his on-field style, which has been full of long runs and stiff-arms that knocked down defenders. It has made him one of the top rookie running backs in the league with 503 rushing yards, fourth in yards per attempt (5.65) and sixth in yards before first contact (343).
On-field prowess aside, how he handles himself off the field with teammates has allowed him to fit in. He takes jokes from other running backs and returns barbs with observational humor when “whatever I see that I feel is out of place, which is normally a lot of things.” It was this way at Auburn, too. Guys know they can get a reaction and know he doesn’t take offense, so it’s all good-natured and in fun.
It helped him bond with teammates fast, even as he moved quickly to the top of the depth chart.
“After you’re around people for a crazy amount of time per day, you start to see them as just an extension of your family,” Johnson said. “And it’s better that way because you’ve got to see them. It’s not like I can come here and not see a running back.
“So it’s better that we’re all really good friends and it’s better that we can joke on each other. It’s better that we have humor. It makes our days better.”
The humor has centered the most about one part of Johnson: his hair.
Johnson last cut it June 22 – a date he knows because it was just before he was about to leave the country for his birthday. And every time Johnson leaves the country, he cuts his hair, usually low and sometimes with a fade. Then he lets it just grow and grow.
It has been going on for months, despite the pleas of his position-mates.
“He hasn’t gotten a haircut since he arrived [for training camp],” Theo Riddick said. “That’s ludicrous. You know what I’m saying. Sometimes you got to check his hygiene. He needs a haircut. Mmm-hmmm. I think that’s the biggest thing.
“You don’t understand. We’ve tried many things.”
Riddick wouldn’t divulge everything they’ve attempted to get Johnson to cut his hair, at least until mid-October, when Johnson showed more of what he could do. Not that they believe his strength has some Samson-esque tie, but why mess with what’s working.
Even if that hair, as LeGarrette Blount described it, can be a bit unkempt at times.
“At this point, whatever length it is right now, I just want him to keep it at that length,” Blount said. “That’s all I want right now.”
Johnson is used to this. When he was at Auburn he was the same way with his fashion and his hair. All he did was become the SEC Offensive Player of the Year last season. He said even now you can go back to Auburn, ask about his hair and “it’s still a thing there, too.”
And some of the things he was doing on the field at Auburn are starting to replicate in Detroit. He has had two 100-yard rushing games, including a career-best 158 yards against Miami.
He was brought to the podium after the Miami game, the best game of his career, and instead of dressed in an impeccable suit, he was wearing an old Auburn T-shirt. The day after the Dolphins game, Johnson showed up to the facility like it was just another day – not one where he gained 158 yards and established himself as one of the better young running backs in the league.
He acted like a veteran instead of the rookie he is. The type of clothes he wore didn’t matter.
“That’s kind of what makes him unique. He’s such a humble person that he doesn’t really care about his appearance because the person he is speaks louder than that,” Riddick said. “When you start to realize that, you start to respect him for doing that. Especially nowadays, you know, because there are so many cameras out, a lot of people are very aware of their image.
“To see someone that is just so humble, not really care, and really be carefree in that area is huge.”
Even though he’s a rookie, Kerryon Johnson has learned to handle things on – and off – the field like an old pro.