Don’t call him Randy -- not even Duke Johnson's teammates call him by his given name. “Duke” was a nickname given to him by his mother, and it became a household name throughout the ACC last year, as the ACC’s rookie of the year enjoyed one of the best seasons by a Miami freshman. Johnson rushed for a school freshman-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. He set a school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 2,060 all-purpose yards, the second most in program history.
Can he do better in 2013?
I caught up with Duke on a recent trip to Coral Gables. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What was it like to be you last year as the ACC’s rookie of the year? What was it like walking around on campus?
Duke Johnson: It’s not what everybody thinks just because many people won’t really recognize me if they see me out of a uniform. Every now and then a couple of guys will come up to me and recognize me.
What was it like for you personally being so involved with the team as a true freshman?
DJ: Coming in, I knew my goal and my role was to provide for the team by any means and that was basically what I did.
But you and I both know there are a gazillion 18-year-olds out there who think they’re going to come in and do what you did last year and get hit with reality and a redshirt. How did you do what you did?
DJ: Just the guys in front of me being big brothers and allowing me to come in and play and walk me through the offense and helping me out along the way, guys like Mike James, Eduardo Clements, guys before me gave me the opportunity to play.
How much did you have to study?
DJ: The guys mentored me on and off the field to make sure I knew everything I was supposed to and know it, so when the season came on, it won’t be an issue.
So how do you avoid the sophomore slump? How do you get better?
DJ: Just by doing what I’m supposed to do, not thinking about it, not going by any expectations, just going out there and playing football.
You have a huge advantage in that all of your starters return on the offensive line. What do you think about those guys and the job they’ve done this spring?
DJ: Those guys have a bond, they know each other, they know who’s going to do what in every situation. That’s good for the whole offense. We trust one another. It’s not like you have a new guy, and you have to learn what he does, and when he might slip up and what he needs help with. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Because you grew up a Miami fan and always wanted to come to Miami, did that make last year’s accomplishments even more meaningful to you?
DJ: Yes. As a kid, I always wanted to come here and do great things and be a Miami Hurricane. Now that I’m doing it, and doing it to the best of my ability, it makes it even more special.
What are you doing this spring to get better?
DJ: I’m gaining weight, putting on muscle and trying to run with it. Me and Dallas Crawford have to spend more time mentoring the other backs and getting them better during the spring.
What are your expectations for yourself this year?
DJ: Myself? I don’t really have any. Not for myself. I go out and play for my team. We’re playing to win, take it game by game and just win as much as we can.
You talked a little bit about your weight. What’s your offseason regimen been like in terms of nutrition, what your weight was and what your goal is?
DJ: At the end of last year, I was probably 185. Now I’m up to 192. When the season starts I want to be around 195, no more than 195.
Have you noticed a difference in how you run?
DJ: I can feel it when I run. I break tackles. Last year, I’d get hit and I would stumble or fall easy. This year, it takes a lot more than a little bump.
Who’s the next Duke Johnson at Miami? Who will be the freshman or the rookie who wows everyone this fall?
DJ: Ooh. Good question. Dallas Crawford. He has all the tools to do it. He might not be as fast as you would expect, but Dallas is a quick guy. He knows the offense in and out and when he gets his opportunity, he makes the best of every opportunity he gets.
Do you think your role will change much this year?
DJ: This year I’m going to have to get more carries than I did last year, a lot more carries. Special teams, like last year. I have to do a better job in blocking and short yardage.
You came here to Miami to win championships, obviously, do you think you guys are close to that?
DJ: We have the tools. We have the coaches, we have everything we need to do it. It’s just on us whether or not we do it.